NBC Says Olympic Spoilers Have Actually Helped Ratings

We’re one week into the 2012 Summer Olympics, which means it’s time to look back on NBC’s week of TV and online coverage of the games. And while the network has taken a beating in the social media sphere for its insistence on not airing marquee events like swimming and gymnastics live on air, the suits at NBC pish-posh the criticism and say that people are actually more than alright with knowing who has won or lost the gold medal each night.

Yesterday, a few NBC execs talked to reporters about the games thus far and when the question of “Why are you waiting to air events when everyone already knows the results?” came up, they claimed that their information shows 67% of viewers who knew events’ results planned to watch the primetime coverage anyway. Meanwhile, only 54% of those who didn’t know the results said they were planning on tuning in.

Well, that sounds all well and good, but we have a few issues with dismissing the discussion so quickly.

First off, while some of those people who knew the results came upon them accidentally — which is incredibly easy to do these days — it’s also likely that a good chunk of these people actively looked up the results because they are interested in the Olympics and wanted to know. Thus, it’s not a stretch to assume that people who would seek out race results would also plan to watch the event later, whereas people who have managed to not learn the results may be more likely to not be as interested in the games.

Second, those numbers could be used as good argument for airing events live on TV. Just because you broadcast a swimming race live at 2:30 p.m. — when only a small number of people could watch — doesn’t mean you can’t also run it during prime time. As NBC’s own stats claim, just because people know the results doesn’t mean folks won’t tune in.

Heck, the NFL Network (which may not be the paradigm for sports broadcasting, but which fits into this story so we’re using it) has been airing NFL pre-season games for the last few years, but only a handful of them are live. Most are shown on tape delay, sometimes more than a day after it originally aired. We’re going to assume that at least some people tune in to those broadcasts, which don’t have the stature or broader appeal of the Olympics.

And if NBC truly thinks that spoilers are just fine and dandy, why did it do so much groveling after the other night’s huge swimming spoiler goof?