Olympics TV Delay Criticized, But Ratings Are Up

There has been much grousing on social media about NBC tape-delaying marquee Olympic events until its prime-time broadcast. Twitter users say it's a "stone-age" model, but NBC says it needs to protect its $1.8 billion investment. So far, ratings are up.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

A couple of big events at the London Olympics, today. Michael Phelps swims in the 200-meter butterfly final, and the U.S. Women's Gymnastics Team goes for gold. But if you want to see these events on television in the U.S., you'll have to wait until long after they're over, because NBC is delaying marquee events until primetime.

As NPR's Ben Bergman reports, the strategy is not winning many fans.

BEN BERGMAN, BYLINE: These were billed as the first social media Olympics, and indeed, the games are getting a lot of attention in the Twitterverse, but probably not in the way NBC envisioned. #NBCFail has been a popular hashtag. The network's been called scrooge-like, its coverage said to be from the Stone Age.

Blogger Jeff Jarvis is among the critics.

JEFF JARVIS: If you sat down and asked: How do we serve the fans of the Olympics? You'd show them the most important events when they happen, live. And we now have this thing called Twitter, which is a gigantic spoiler network. You're going to know what happens. And if NBC deprives you of that, that's a problem.

BERGMAN: But there's a problem with all the criticism. NBC's primetime ratings are up significantly, even when compared with the same nights four years ago when it was able to show some events live.

BRAD ADGATE: I don't think anybody expected these numbers to be this strong, at least initially.

BERGMAN: Brad Adgate is an analyst at Horizon Media. Like the saying there's no such thing as bad press, Adgate says there's no such thing as bad tweets - at least as far as attracting eyeballs.

ADGATE: People are talking about the event on Facebook and on Twitter, and I think social media may have had an impact in helping ratings.

BERGMAN: NBC didn't respond to a request for comment, though it's taken to Twitter, too, to point out that it's showing every event live online. But it's telling that even in the social media age, television is what most people are talking about.

Ben Bergman, NPR News.

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