Although NBC is touting an Olympic prime-time viewer increase of nine percent over the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, their decision to delay broadcasts of major Olympic events and races has angered many viewers and fragmented the collective experience of Olympic viewing.
Remember Beijing 2008? Families and friends could all tune in at the same time to watch Michael Phelps chase down one of sports history's greatest achievements—securing eight gold medals in one Olympic Games, toppling the long-held record of Mark Spitz, USA swimmer who racked up seven gold medals in the 1972 games.
In order for the world to watch Phelps chase this unimaginable feat, the entire Olympic swimming schedule was changed with Finals being swum in the morning in Beijing, so that folks in the U.S. could watch it happen live on NBC at 8 p.m.
Flash-forward four years, and unless you have the good fortune of actually being at the London Games or on Big Ben's broadcast time, the viewing choices have been greatly diminished.
You can decide to watch your favorite sport live-streamed at www.NBCOlympics.com, if you have a computer and a cable provider, or you can be held hostage until 8 p.m.-12 p.m. ET time, when NBC re-broadcasts their hand-picked highlights, making it nearly impossible to watch as a family.
The Olympics as family viewing has been touted as a boon to children because of the inherent lessons learned from Olympic athletes on the benefits and sacrifices made in their bid to get to the Games, as well as the exposure to different cultures and sports (according to Betsy Brown Braun of the Huffington Post).
Even if you chose to have your Olympic viewing experience live, at approximately 2:30 p.m. ET, with friends and family gathered around a computer screen, you have one shot and one shot only to watch it when www.NBColympics.com live-streams.
If you're, say, working and miss that small window of live-streamed opportunity, then NBC shuts the lights off, and you can't watch the event again until they decide to re-broadcast it in the evening.
"NBC has to understand that their tape-delay is going to cause a lot of controversy," said Evan Morgenstein, a PMG sports agent and FOX News Olympic correspondent, who has 11 of his athletic clients at the 2012 Olympics, including gold medalist African-American swimming sprinter, Cullen Jones and bronze medalist diver David Boudia
"The viewing is anti-climatic and no matter what their numbers are going to get smaller and smaller when you're looking at a an 11 hour delay the farther you move west," Morgenstein told Bleacher Report.
As for the delayed-broadcast's impact on athletes and their sponsorship, Morgenstein said that "sadly, because of the delayed broadcast, a lot of athletes who are winning medals in various sports, unless they're on the women's gymnastic team, are not going to be seen by sponsors in that huge meteroric excitement that's created in the moment when a Lady Gaga or a Justin Bieber tweets them. They're relegated to the shadows which is really unfortunate."
With the implosion of social media, if you do not have the access or ability to get to the livestream the moment it's happening, then you have to crawl into a non-virtual cave so as not to have the results spoiled.
If you successfully dwell in that cave, then you get to help boost NBC's ratings as they often dangle the big race in front of fans like a carrot, holding marque swim races like Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte in the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys, or the men's 4x100-meter free relay showdown between the U.S., France and South Africa.
Thay relay was made historic in Beijing when U.S. anchor Jason Lezak overtook France's Alain Bernard to do what was on paper impossible and beat the French, keeping Phelps' hopes of eight gold medals alive.
Sadly, if there are Lezak-like moments, and there certainly have been, there is no universal experience of them, no collective memory of "Where were you when Phelps out-touched Croatia's Milord Cavic by one one-hundredth of a second for gold in the 100-meter butterfly in Beijing?"
While the athletic magic is still there, the viewing magic has been dissipated at the least, despite NBC paying the International Olympic Committee (IOC) $1.18 billion for exclusive television rights.
The popular Olympic swim commentator Mike Gustafson responded to the Twittersphere of complaints about the delayed broadcast with this tweet: "It's not good for the sport of swimming when most people talk about how it gets distributed instead of the races itself. #NBCTapeDelay."
He then tweeted in his witty way, "I wish London was on Tape Delay Standard Time."
In fact, the backlash to NBC's broadcast led to the creation of @NBCDelayed, a parody Twitter account that started on July 29th and within days had skyrocketed its followers to upwards of 25,000 with satirical tweets like "BREAKING: Muhammad Ali lights flame at opening ceremonies in Atlanta #NBCFail" and "BREAKING: Orville and Wilbur Wright's machine flies."
Social media's implosion over the past four years into every nook and cranny in the world has created an immediacy for Olympic fans, whereby they can learn of the results the instant they happen and then tune into to hear what their favorite athlete has to say via Twitter, whose numbers have grown from a modest three million four years ago to over 140 million users in 2012.
"In today's world, social media dominates," said Morgenstein, who doesn't see that as a negative thing. "It's a great way to augment your viewing of the Olympics. If your favourite is Michael Phelps, then you can go right to Twitter and get his immediate response to a race."
Sadly, that perfect dove-tail can not happen with NBC's delayed broadcast.
"Personally, I see it as a bigger and bigger hindrance to have the Olympics held in places like Asia or so far away that the time difference on the East Coast is so great that you're going to continue to lose your main audience," said Morgenstein. "NBC has tied the IOC's hands with this and it's become a real problem."
The hashtag #NBCFail is hopefully sending a message that Olympic viewers and sports enthusiasts want just that—the ability to watch their favourite athletes and sporting events live, along with social media as a companion.
Without the two in sync, the "Social Olympics" will continue to alienate viewers and hurt those under-the-radar athletes whose medal-clinching efforts should be broadcast for the world to see and children to be inspired by.
Follow Erin at @ErinQuinn11
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