2012 Olympics: Is the NBC Primetime Delay Policy a Good Plan?

James Williams@WordmandcAnalyst IIIJuly 31, 2012

Woman's Gymnastics Team Finals are tape delayed tonight on NBC
Woman's Gymnastics Team Finals are tape delayed tonight on NBCRonald Martinez/Getty Images

Tonight, NBC will air in primetime the Women's Team Gymnastics Final and also the Women's 200-Meter Freestyle; both marquee events will be on tape delay. The two glamour events will be finished about five hours before Bob Costas welcomes the audience to London 2012 at 7:30 p.m. ET and PT.

The Women's Team Gymnastics could be seen live on NBCOlympics.com at 11:30 a.m. ET while the Women's 200-Meter Freestyle swimming gold went off at 2:30 p.m. ET. allowing those who wished to see the event live to have that option.

But why not air the those two popular events live on either MSNBC or NBC Sports Network then still air it in the primetime slot on NBC?

Well, here is your answer...    

According to ratings provided to Bleacher Report  from NBC Sports and verified by Nielsen ratings:

NBC is averaging 35.8 million viewers, the best through the first weekend for any Summer Olympics in history (since the 1960 Rome Olympics, the first televised Olympics), 1.4 million more than the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (34.4 million), and 5 million ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics (30.6 million) - (data from NBC)

*Monday night's telecast ratings on NBC was 5% less than day three of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Clearly, the Olympics, because of the large number of non-sports fans that watch the Games,at this point in time it simply does not pay for NBC to drop the tape delay plan. Ratings don't lie and even if the NBC numbers are off a little bit, they will still uphold the NBC tape delay strategy that they have used ever since they got the games back in 1988.

What will be interesting will be how effective the "second screen" has been—broadband viewers—for those not in the business. There is not enough data in yet to know, but the broadband numbers should be record breaking. I am not going out on a limb here given that the sheer numbers of live streaming feeds offered on the NBCOlympics.com site is over twice as more than was offered back four years ago in Beijing. 

So there are those who are critics of NBC's tape delay style and there is hope that the network will drop their tape delay plans. Four years from now, things could be different as new media with the sale of tablets growing at a robust rate will be a bigger factor.

When it comes to 2016 in Rio, the time works to the advantage to NBC as Brazil is only one hour ahead of New York so matching things up should be better. We will also have tons of info on how effective that second screen was in London.

I know that plenty of fans are upset with NBC for tape delaying the Olympics to keep the key events in prime-time. For the record, I think that airing all the events live while still having a nice, well-placed prime-time show would work. But until the ratings fall off dramatically—and that is not likely to happen—then it will be tape delay in prime-time and broadband for all live content.