Statistics undercut complaints about NBC Olympic coverage

The good news from London is this is the first Olympics I can recall in which the phone/email system isn’t jammed with people who are upset because we mentioned who won medals, spoiling their evening TV.

Maybe people have been successful avoiding all forms of media and the titterings of colleagues. More likely, however, is people have realized their fun isn’t really spoiled by knowing who’s going to win.

Sometimes suspense ruins good viewing. I often taped sporting events, for instance, fully intending to watch it as if it were live. More often, though, I’d zip to the end, see if my team won, and then fully enjoyed the “how” part of it more than I otherwise would have (assuming my team won; otherwise I’d just hit delete).

NBC apparently realized this phenomenon too, according to the Associated Press.

NBC chief researcher Alan Wurtzel says that two-thirds of people who said they knew the results ahead of NBC’s tape-delayed telecast said they would watch the events anyway. People who watched the events earlier in the day via computer stream watched the tape-delayed broadcast for a longer time than those who hadn’t.

Wurtzel and NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus, were on a conference call today that sought to defend criticism of NBC for tape-delaying broadcasts.

Lazarus said the London Games — tape-delayed as they are — have higher ratings than the prime-time live broadcasts from China four years ago.

Tuesday’s broadcast of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team winning gold, and Michael Phelps winning two races, garnered a 21.8 rating. Game 5 of the NBA Finals, got a 12.6 rating on ABC. Only one of those was live.

Bottom line? Sometimes what people say they want, isn’t really what they want. NBC knew that.

Update 2:25 p.m. — I spoke too soon. This just in:

Why are you putting this on the front page of the MPR website? The event has not yet been broadcast and I was looking forward to this event more than any other in the Olympics. Is it so hard to publish a headline to the affect of “Female Gymnast Claims All Around Gold”, so that a viewer can click on the story and you don’t ruin the surprise for people who have to work all day, like me? I am so disappointed and I expected so much more from MPR. Shame on you. Please take this headline down so you don’t ruin it for more people.

Let me take this one:

Dear audience member:

It’ s not the job of the news media to set your agenda for your TV viewing. It’s the job of the news media to tell those people who want to be informed of the day’s events, what those events were. We write headlines the same way we would for any other news story.

This is not the last scene of The Dark Knight Rises we’re talking about here. This is an event widely considered to be current news.

I understand that while others may want to be informed as events occur, you would not want to have the event spoiled. That’s why the responsibility for avoiding the news rests primarily with you.

To do otherwise is an utter failure of a news organization. And, by the way, it would also require staff to rewrite headlines for archival purposes after a suitable time has passed. That’s an expense that distracts from what we do — tell people what happened today.

Personally, I’ve never felt any shame for doing so.

Update 2:32 p.m. – My colleague, Paul Tosto, has reminded me of a 2004 study involving a Minnesota researcher who determined that humans swim just as fast through syrup as they do through water.

  • JackU
  • Mark Gisleson

    OK, let’s add it all up. NBC gives you a choice of watching their delayed coverage or watching on a cable/dish channel (the only way you can legally watch Team USA basketball so far).

    Your other options? All illegal in the United States, and NBC has been very aggressive in that regard. Many pirate streaming sites have been taken down, and those not taken down ask you for your cable subscriber information before letting you watch their feed of what other countries are watching in real time.

    The truth is NBC’s ratings reflect our interest in the Olympics. The truth also is that nothing cited by you in your post proves that NBC’s ratings wouldn’t be much, much higher if they were working harder at giving their audience what the audience wants (as opposed to what NBC chooses to give them).

    I love the minor sports NBC ignores. I love Team USA basketball, which NBC says you have to pay to see (cable and dish are paywalled — no money, no access). NBC is simply grooming Americans for the next big thing: the disappearance of all sports from free (broadcast) TV.

    It should also be noted that NBC is shoveling twenty minutes of primetime commercials down their viewers throat every hour. Deregulation is really working well for the little folks.

  • Bob Collins

    I wouldn’t overstate the interest in the Olympics. About 30 million people watch the Olympics on a given night regardless of how they’re presented.

    About 111 million people watch the Super Bowl.

  • Jamie

    “More likely, however, is people have realized their fun isn’t really spoiled by knowing who’s going to win.”

    I’m with Bob. I get really tired of people whining about “spoilers.” Suspense is over-rated.

  • Jim Shapiro

    A true sports fan watches not only hoping their team/person will win, but is interested in the competition, quality, and yes, the suspense as well.

    That said, anyone who expects the suspense of a delayed broadcast event to be unbroken in our world of 24 hour up to the minute news coverage

    is either extremely naive, or just looking for yet another thing to complain about.

    And Mark Gisleson, is alive and kicking if you’re interested 🙂

  • Jennifer Moore

    NBC ruined the Franklin win with her interview preview for the today show before they aired the race…then again tonight they did the same thing with the phelps 100 and tomorrow morning. Some of us have managed to avoid the media all day just to watch the race and then you ruin it right before you air it…you can’t wait till after that race…geez

  • Tony

    I thought capitalism was supposed to provide us with options and not monopolies. Why doesn’t NBC show events live and then again repeat major events like 100 meters finals etc during prime time? Why is it that 2 billion people worldwide can watch the action live and none of them in America? How is it that these counties can manage this? How is it that the UK is able to show the super bowl live every year even though it is broadcast at 1am local time? I guess we Americans are just so used to and so passive when constantly being manipulated by the media. Nice job NBC! Just because you still have high ratings for providing this desultory service, doesn’t validate what you are doing is right or providing a service. It’s what we accuse the rest of the world as being victim to, namely no options. How ironic. The fact that most people don’t have good options regarding their cable providers means NBC will continue to behave this way and continue to believe based on flawed statistics that they are doing the right thing

  • Jamie

    The ignorance of this article is staggering. Bob Collins: look up the term “junk science.” Your attempts to draw conclusions from statistical observations are embarassing. People are tuning in because they want to see the olympics and NBC is getting viewers because they have an exclusive right to broadcast in the US. People want the option of watching the olympics LIVE. ON TELEVISION. NBC is PREVENTING people from viewing marquee events live on TV. The notion that giving viewers the programming choices they want results in lower ratings is moronic beyond belief. And not doing so is insulting and disrespectful to everyone in America, even those too stupid to know they’ve been disrespected. If you want to record a live event and watch it later, good for you. If NBC records them for you, prevents you from seeing them live, and spoon feeds them to you later, purely out of misguided corporate greed, then NBC execs can burn in hell.

  • Bob Collins

    // TV. The notion that giving viewers the programming choices they want results in lower ratings is moronic beyond belief.

    Your impressive use of insulting adjectives notwithstanding, there’s not much to respond to here, Jamie. You’re addressing points I didn’t make and expecting me to defend them.You’ll have to argue those with yourself.

    However, I am interested in your apparent perception of TV networks — over the air networks, that is — as public service. They’re a business. They bought the rights to these games for $1.2 billion. They’re not going to make that money running a Pampers commercial during a Michael Phelps live race shown at 2:30 in the afternoon.

    And also, why are you watching TV at 2:30 in the afternoon?

    Now, people will promise they’d tune in at 2:30 in the afternoon to watch a swim meet live, but they won’t. They never have; not in the numbers they’d tune in for at night and the way you get to watch stuff free on network TV is in exchange for the eyeballs on commercials.

    “rot in hell?”

    Boy, of all the stories in the news that could be applied to today, I have to say I’m shocked you chose to invoke it because you can’t watch some young women and men on the pommel horse at the moment you demand to watch it.

    Our lives are pretty darned good, eh?

  • Danny Ahn

    I will forever boycott NBC. Their monopoly on Olympics makes me lose interest in wanting to watch the Olympics. I will use the internet to watch the results and highlights as they appear on YouTube.

    F-U NBC

  • Lisa Schomogyi

    My concern with NBC’s coverage is the limitation of what is shown in prime time given overall time constraint. We get to see limited coverage of certain sports, especially gymnastics, which is not available for live viewing. Also, when did prime time extend until midnight? Can’t we start watching at 6 or 7 so kids can watch too?

  • Alick Munro

    Why are we subjected to hours of swimming and jimnastics a little water polo and tons of volly ball.

    No I don’t want hours of archery but missing hours of track and field to watch the 20th hour of Jimnastics. I am angry. Its a shame really. I recall reading a report from American airlines while I was stuffed into a long and grueling flight across country 10 years ago, that reported that their own survey found that passengers would rather save money than be comfortable with a little extra leg room. That is about the time Southwest started coming on strong., and you know why. If jimnastics was so great we would all be watching meets instead of football games. I am going to the internet as there is no southwest TV.

  • Julie

    Nothing against water polo (impressive athletes) or synchronized swimminging, but the brainiacs at NBC aired those yesterday instead of the gold medal womens soccer! I think they are short sighted nincompoops! There are thousands of girls across the country that play soccer vs a handful of graceful swimmers….but they air promos for Grimm relentlessly during prime time like my kids need to see that! Disgusting. Loathe network TV, and NBC is at the top of my list.