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?


Edit Your Comment

  1. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    “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?”

    Easy answer. They realized they made people mad. Then ask someone to come up a justification for doing it, and here we are.

    They went from acknowledging the error to denying it.

  2. Upthewazzu says:

    Who cares. Watch them…or don’t. Why is this a big deal? Sounds like a bunch of bloviators on Twitter that love to read and reread their own drivel.

    • PSUSkier says:

      Because it creates a bigger feeling of suspense in a tight competition (which there have been quite a few of them) when you don’t know the outcome. I haven’t complained, but I do despise that I accidentally see the outcomes more frequently than I’d like.

      • Upthewazzu says:

        But that’s not the fault of NBC. Even if they did air the events live at 2 o’clock in the afternoon you wouldn’t likely be watching them. You’d be at work, or at school, or doing the millions of other things that people do at 2pm. And you’d still have the chance of catching the results on the web before you watched them. This isn’t the first Olympics that occurred in another time zone, why are some (Twitter-ites, mostly) acting like it is?

        • MMD says:

          Because NBC’s prime time coverage is acting as if the events are live.

          NBC is streaming all events as they happen- except for the popular ones, which they’re deliberately holding back until prime time. If they’d just stream them live *and* play them again in prime time, people who want to see them live would find a way and we wouldn’t have this problem.

          As for what people are doing at 2 PM: First off, it’s summer and lots of people who might be in school aren’t right now. Second, have you ever been in an office environment when something big happens during work hours? Like, say, Presidential inaugurations? People stream at work. Finally, not everyone works a 9-5 job. So you don’t really have the market cornered on what people are or aren’t doing at 2 PM.

          • Rexy does not like the new system says:

            This. Just because *you* don’t have time, doesn’t mean other people don’t.

        • AtlantaCPA says:

          Note that if they did show it live and you DVR’d it, then they wouldn’t be running spoiler commercials during the broadcast. There would be the possibility of being surprised.

          The other news outlets and twitter spoiling things I understand, but NBC spoiling their own broadcast is just dumb.

    • MMD says:

      Because it’s part of a larger conversation about the changing media landscape. Most of us are time-shifting our media consumption in one way or another these days (DVRs, online viewing). This is an example of viewing being time-shifted for American audiences by NBC. It’s uncharted territory in terms of news coverage of entertainment – no one has figured out how best to deal with spoilers yet.

  3. kathygnome says:

    I have no objection to a review of the highlights of the days coverage on the broadcast network during prime time, but let us watch the events as they happen. The world has changed and you can’t just tape delay in a world where tape itself is an antiquated technology.

  4. Harry Greek says:

    I never understood the shock and horror around people experiencing something that is ‘ruined’ for them.

    The internet is the biggest offender. Post a thread/comment somewhere about Darth Vader being Anakin Skywalker; people flip the freak out. Mention a twist or something; call in the Marines, you need to be hunted down and executed.

    Calm down, it’s fantasy. The very fact that you can’t enjoy the setting itself and need to lean towards some sort of shocking twist to be entertained shows that you lack imagination and need to be spoon fed excitement.

    I read movie spoilers all the time. But, I still want to see how exactly something happened.

  5. kenj0418 says:

    “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.”

    You are interpreting those numbers wrong. 99% of people who don’t give a crap don’t know the results. And we aren’t going to watch either way. So far I have watched a total of 5 mintues of the Olympics. (The end of the (most obviously) fixed boxing match.)

    • AzCatz07 says:

      Well, since you’re not a fan no one else should be either. /s

      Stop not liking what I like!

  6. dush says:

    Why can’t NBC just put out a schedule of what sport is shown at what time during the primetime broadcast?
    Rowing – 7pm
    Cycling – 7:40pm
    Volleyball – 8:05pm
    Basketball – 8:45pm
    Gymnastics – 9:30pm
    It could be so simple and viewer friendly.

    • MMD says:

      Can’t have that – people wouldn’t watch enough ads!

    • Carlee says:

      They can’t do that because it is too user-friendly. How else can they get people to sit through the whole 4.5 hr broadcast?

      If you’re on the West Coast, USA Today has a live-blogging the primetime coverage column, so you can see what sports NBC shows at what time. It’s quite useful, but even then, I’ve watched only 1 event (the 400M IM that Ryan Lochte won) during this 1st week of the Olympics.

  7. luxosaucer13 says:

    I dunno but this is quite similar to another phenomenon that happens all the time:

    People read a book, then go to the theater to see the movie based upon the book, or vice versa.

    If spoilers are really an issue, why pay to go see the movie when you’ve already read the book? You already KNOW what’s gonna happen, right?

    • MMD says:

      Both of which are choices.

      Both of which are situations where months or years have passed between the first version of the story and the new version.

      Both of which involve the creative transformation of material from one medium to another.

      So, in other words, not similar to this story at all. Analogy fail.

      • luxosaucer13 says:

        Let’s address that shall we. My analogy is still valid:

        Let’s take the book and movie, “The Outsiders,” as exhibit 1:

        1. We know of conflict between two social classes on 1960s Tulsa, OK: Greasers and Socs.
        2. We know the Socs beat up Ponyboy and Johnny and almost drown Ponyboy in a public fountain.
        3. We know Johnny kills one of the Socs in self-defense.
        4. We know Johnny and Ponyboy go hide out in an abandoned church for fear of prosecution by the police.
        5. We know Johnny saves children from a fire started accidentally in said church.
        6. We know Johnny dies due to his injuries sustained in the fire.
        7. We know Dallas goes on a bender because of Johnny’s death and gets shot by the police.

        Ergo, the essential plot elements and ending are the same. Even the book’s author, S.E. Hinton, was involved in the movie production.

        I offer, “The Hunger Games,” as exhibit 2:

        1. There’s some sort of rebellion against the government of Panem by the outlying, impoverished “districts” after some sort of apocalyptic conflict.
        2. Due to the rebellion, as punishment, a teenage boy and girl, are selected in a lottery each year from each district to compete to the death in the Hunger Games, gladiator-style.
        3. The “tributes,” as they are called, are transported to the Capitol to train for the games and win favour amongst the “sponsors,” who are wealthy citizens of the Capitol.
        4. The tributes then enter the arena to fight each other to the death. The last person alive is declared the winner.
        5. During the games, sponsors can “gift” tributes special items to help them win the games.
        6. A rule-change is announced during the games that allows for two victors, if they’re both from the same district.
        7. The two “District 12” tributes join efforts and defeat all the others.
        8. At the end, the gamemaster announces the rule-change to be revoked, hoping the two remaining tributes would fight to the death.
        9. One of the District 12 tributes offers the other poisonous berries to end both their lives, depriving the Capitol of a victor.
        10. The gamemaster relents and declares both District 12 tributes as winners of the Hunger Games.

        Again, the essential plot elements are the same, as is the end result. Suzanne Collins was involved with the movie production as well.

        Regarding the Olympics, whether a person decides to watch live on the internet, via tape delay, or read about it after the fact, the essential “plot elements” and “end result” are exactly the same, regardless of the “time frame” or media “transformation.”

        The analogy is valid.

  8. Rockfish says:


    ,,, ’nuff said

  9. Kaleey says:

    I noticed that my local news is pretending the events are live (“Ooh, will Michael Phelps win another gold?”), but ABC’s World News Tonight (with Diane Sawyer) did NOT, at least on the team finals for women’s gymnastics. So they told their viewers the team would win, 90 minutes before NBC even started to air it.

    NBC is just ratings-mongering – they know the big events will be a bigger draw, so they want to air them in primetime, and ONLY primetime. Otherwise, people who watched it live won’t watch it again in PT.

  10. sparc says:

    No matter what arguments that people come up with via social media, it will change nothing. The complaining falls on deaf ears as long as the IOC and NBC are happy with the record ratings and revenue.(and of course they’re thrilled)

    • NeverLetMeDown2 says:

      Agreed. Bottom line, NBC is airing the Olympics to make money (or at least minimize the amount they lose).

  11. Lisse24 says:

    Here’s what I think NBC doesn’t get. The good ratings that they’ve been getting are not because of the way that they’re handling the coverage, but despite the way they’re handling the coverage. Look at everything that was playing in to this having huge ratings in the US.

    1) Happening in London. Not only has the US had a love affair with Great Britain for the past few decades, but that feeling of warmth is heightened right now being only a few months after a huge royal wedding. BTW, that wedding aired live at 6 am and still managed to pull in 23 million viewers. Live. On a weekday. At 6 am.
    2) Michael Phelps. The greatest Olympian of all time, and he’s from our country – of course people are going to tune in.
    3) The best gymnastics team in about 15 years – or at least being marketed like that. Gymnastics is a sports darling of little girls and adult women. You could air this at 3 am and there would still be millions of viewers tuning in for this viewing.
    4) Several large upsets. Whenever there’s an unexpected turn out to an event, people are going to want to see it.

    I think that if NBC were to have more viewer friendly coverage (better scheduling, less commercials, live airing during the day, and at night, appropriate & knowledgeable coverage), they’d be getting more viewers, not less.

  12. TasteyCat says:

    I don’t believe spoilers are helping NBC, but the record ratings wouldn’t suggest they’re being harmed any either. People can complain all they want, but it all seems pretty irrelevant to me.

  13. tlvx says:

    If I see a spoiler for a USA loss, I won’t watch… nothing to watch. So, NBC loses me that way, which would not happen if the coverage was on live. If I see a spoiler for a big win, like with Gabby Douglass winning gold in the All-Around, I just watch the Canadian TV coverage before it ever gets to NBC. I gave NBC a chance last night, but apparently, they expect me to sit through a couple hours of nonsense events, and fifty zillion commercials, just to see two elite gymnasts do battle amongst only four rotations. No thanks NBC. I’m fine with CTV’s coverage, even if I have to download it. The download will finish before NBC gets through that unmitigated assault on our intelligence.

  14. Carlee says:

    I actually prefer knowing the results of sporting events before I watch because sometimes I get nervous (if there’s an athlete or a team that I want to win). If my pick wins, then I’ll watch the broadcast; if they lose, I won’t (or I’ll just watch the 1st half or whatever). So the 3hr tape-delay that us on the West Coast have to put up with is not a big deal for me.

    But I know most people do like watching events live. During the last World Cup, people were watching the game on the tv in the break room. I streamed it on my laptop during my lunch break. It’s part of an experience that you probably don’t get watching on tv 12 hours after it’s happened (for us on the west coast).

    I’ve watched very little of these Olympics Games – I’m just not into it. It’s not the tape-delay issue (I’m at work during the day so I wouldn’t be watching it at home, and I wouldn’t be streaming it at work either), but NBC’s insistence that they know best when it comes to broadcasting sports is off-putting. Besides, they obviously get something out of broadcasting the games, whether it’s actual profits or just advertisement for their regular season shows (why else would they spend the money to secure the rights?) – so they definitely should stop whining and crying when people take to Twitter and gripe about the coverage. Let us commonfolk vent and you can laugh all the way to the bank.

  15. infinate812 says:

    To be honest, the fact that Americans are having a great Olympics is the only reason I am watching some nights. Knowing Phelps is going to win gold makes it worth it to tune in. I don’t care to waste my time staring at the TUBE if all it means is near misses and losses… I like to know the results ahead of time. Doesn’t spoil the athletes performance one bit.

  16. axiomatic says:

    What is it about you NBC apologists that don’t understand that we are the only country doing this highlight crap?

    How convenient it must be for you that you think there aren’t better alternatives that we are not allowed to use without having to bend the rules a little. (European VPN’s)

  17. Samuelm456 says:

    Unbelievable. The ego on this NBC execs…while that should not be surprising, what IS shocking is the degree of pure narcissism that makes them think we LIKE freaking spoilers. I wait and wait for an Olympic event, and before I can even begin to watch it, I see the results 3 times in the media. The freaking WEATHER CHANNEL gives spoilers.

    Don’t like. Don’t want. F U NBC.

  18. brownie99 says:

    Roll on a time (long overdue already) when territorial broadcasting restrictions are lifted, then we will all have the option to watch PROPER sports coverage from the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation).

  19. icerabbit says:

    Let’s not forget that several other broadcasters have suspended all their current series for the duration of the olympics, and are running reruns of the last few weeks, so there really isn’t much current new content on TV.

    I think the coverage by NBC though polished is very poor. It starts with lack of live broadcasts of important events, though understandably not everything can be broadcast at the same time. Other countries cover broadcasts live as they happen, no matter the time of day or night – and then may have highlights or entire re-broadcasts later — why can’t the US?

    I just get aggravated by the lack of depth of coverage, the amount of blabber & banter, countless commercial interruptions and social media injections. A couple times I’ve tuned in, I’ve just hit mute.

  20. KashmirKong says:

    No surprise here. This is the same reason movie trailers reveal so much nowadays.

  21. BCGA82 says:

    And…… They spoiled it again last night by saying Bolt had won before they showed it. This is why I use a VPN to watch the BBC coverage live whenever I can. If anyone who works for NBC is reading this, FUCK YOU FOR SHOWING COMMERCIALS DURING SOCCER GAMES! This is why people hate your coverage.

  22. TheMonkeyKing says:

    Higher ratings or Stockholm Syndrome (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome)?

    You tell me: do you feel like a captive?