Spoiler Alert: Social media not tempering viewership of NBC’s London Olympics broadcast

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Social media and the 24/7 news cycle have made it increasingly difficult for fans of the Olympics to avoid learning who won gold in the games’ most-anticipated competitions before they’re televised, according to this story on courant.com:

U.S. favorite Gabrielle Douglas’ brilliant performance on the balance beam helps the U.S. women’s team to gold victory. The competition generated a record number of tweets for a sporting event.

Twitter and Facebook users shared the news of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team’s gold medal performance in London well before the final flip was broadcast Tuesday night on NBC. Media outlets blasted text alerts when swimmer Michael Phelps broke the record for most medals hours before he touched the wall on tape delay.

Although some news outlets, such as Yahoo.com, have given their consumers a choice by linking to a page of real-time results, many fans are complaining that it’s difficult to stay away from the news.

Despite all the spoiling going on, TV ratings for the taped prime-time events are breaking records because, one expert says, the Olympic experience is as much social as it is sporting.

Nothing can spoil American Nathan Adrian as he celebrates after taking gold in the 100-meter freestyle Wednesday. Photo by Vernon Bryant / McClatchy-Tribune

“Television is best equipped to present the Olympics as spectacle, as a story, even if you know the outcome,” said Quinnipiac University journalism Professor Richard Hanley.

Hanley says that watching the Olympics is a communal event.

“People tend to watch the Olympics with other people, the big screen, with wonderful high-definition. You could see the tears flowing,” he said.

The news unfolds in London five hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time, and it hits the Internet rapidly.

Meanwhile, NBC, which has exclusive American broadcasting rights, holds its footage of prime competitions — such as swimming and gymnastics — for prime-time television.

“There is nothing left to enjoy, no more excitement in watching it,” Andrea Hardy told The Courant on Facebook. “The information travels way too fast, and no matter what you do to try and avoid it, there is a txt msg, email, pic msge or something that gets to you and gets to you way too fast … i love social media but it certainly ruins the element of surprise sometimes.”

Quinnipiac journalism Professor Brett Orzechowski understands the frustration.

“It does lose the intimacy of watching something unfold live,” he said.

He doesn’t necessarily agree with NBC’s tactics, but he understands them.

“Their concern right now is their advertising dollars and with record-breaking viewership; I’m not sure it’s going to change,” he said.

Hanley maintains that the Internet complaints are being exaggerated. He notes that far more people are watching the games on TV than are tweeting about them on the Internet. Although there have been more than 10 million tweets mentioning the Olympics during the first few days of the games, more than 35 million people have been watching them on television each night.

“The ratings are the ratings. People still love to watch,” he said.

Michael Phelps’ Olympic record-setting performance was tweeted and posted on Facebook long before NBC’s coverage of the historic event hours before Americans finally watched it on NBC. Phelps even got a congratulatory tweet from the commander in chief.

NBC is in a “very difficult position” in that the Olympics are occurring during the daytime, while Americans are at work, Hanley said. The network is live-streaming less popular Olympic events on its website, but saving the best for nighttime television, he noted. Although NBC actually loses money straight away, its investment pays off in promotional value for its fall season as well as its local affiliates’ late-night news, which immediately follows the Olympics coverage, he said.

“Why undermine your own ratings by giving in to a small fraction of people who want to watch it live?” he said.

What do you think? What do you think about NBC’s tape delay? And is social media enhancing or detracting from your Olympic viewing experience?

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