Posts Tagged ‘Ryan Lochte’

Delayed Reaction: Tape Delays, Social Media Create Challenges for Olympic Followers

Every four years the Olympic games capture the attention of sports fans, both casual and hardcore, across the globe. The excitement of seeing big name athletes such as Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Usain Bolt, Hope Solo and LeBron James compete for gold is must-see television.

No need for the update, Bob, we already saw the results on Twitter yesterday.

Since 1988, NBC has been the exclusive TV home of the summer Olympic games, and in 2002 became the home for the winter games as well. With its headquarters in New York and its audience predominantly American, NBC has strived to broadcast the games so that major events are seen in U.S. primetime slots. But with a five-hour time difference between London and the Eastern Time Zone, NBC is forced to resort to a dreaded television phrase: tape delay.

Tape delays are nothing new, but they certainly aren’t popular. People have an insatiable need to hear the latest news as it happens, not wait five hours to hear about it. So when NBC resorted to tape delay in order to put events in primetime slots, the reaction was understandably negative.¬†NBC used tape delay for the 2008 summer games in Beijing, but the advent of social media has created a host of issues in 2012.

Take for example the highly anticipated 400-meter freestyle relay race in men’s swimming. In 2008, the U.S. edged France by .08 in the race, coming from behind and winning by literally the margin of a fingertip to claim the gold. Both the U.S. and France squads were in this summer’s 400-meter relay, and the rematch figured to be close once again. Due to tape delay, the race was not shown on NBC until the evening, even though the race was completed hours earlier. With real-time updates from journalists on site, followers on Twitter and other social media platforms learned the French turned the tables on the U.S., coming from behind to win gold by .45. That took all the drama out of seeing the event that evening on television.

Updates on social media have put Olympic followers in uncharted territory: To follow or not to follow? Many Twitter users have unfollowed users who have updated from the games so as to keep the results a surprise when they see them at night. One Twitter user even had his account suspended when he went too far in criticizing NBC for using tape delay. The best outcome of the tape delay so far has been the parody account @NBCDelayed, which has over 20,000 followers since launching in the past three days as it gives mock updates that happened previously (Bush beats Gore in 2000 Election, U.S. wins “Miracle on Ice”).

Despite the issues, NBC seems to be doing fine. The opening weekend drew the biggest TV ratings in Olympic history. Though it may be frustrating for athletes and hardcore fans, the fact remains that tape delay helps draw bigger ratings, and that in turn helps the games generate more interest and more money. It’s an unfortunate tradeoff, but a necessary one for NBC.

This proves once again that the Olympics are not about sports or even politics, they are about money.

Photo (cc) by Doc Searls and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.