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Is the Internet Ruining the Olympics?

NBC is getting flack from Americans who are struggling with the internet's up-to-the-minute news versus television's 'hold til prime time' Olympic broadcasts.

The Opening Ceremonies for the London Olympics Friday started off in a big ball of fireworks, music and even a few laughs. But the opening night did not go without a hitch, thanks largely to NBC, which decided to opt for a Michael Phelps interview over the tribute for victims of the "7/7" terror attacks in 2005.

Now, despite posting record-ratings in the first days of the Olympics, NBC is facing even tougher criticism for its insistence on delaying the broadcasts of the most popular events in order to hit the big primetime audiences in the United States.

According to the Baltimore Sun, 28.7 million viewers tuned in to NBC Saturday night for the first night of competition, beating the record set for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

But with Michael Phelps on the hunt for a medal record and Lebron James hoping to resurrect a "Dream Team" of the past, websites–including NBC's Olympics website–are letting the cat out of the bag before Americans have a chance to watch the competitions on their televisions.

By 2:30 p.m. EST on Saturday, the men's 400-meter individual medley–the first event for Phelps–had concluded, and people on the East Coast had to avoid revealing headlines online for nearly six hours until they could watch on television as the American super star failed to place.

With the Internet jumping the gun on so many Olympic stories, the cartoon above, from the 1936 competitions in Berlin, seems eerily accurate as runners take off from the starting line to an audience of one camera and the amplified cheers of viewers at their home televisions.

Alexandra Petri, a columnist for the Washington Post, says, tongue-in-cheek, watching the Olympics on NBC is like stepping into a time machine, going back to a time before websites, social media and a 24-hour news cycle.

Here are a few tweets from NBC Live Fail, an account making fun of NBC's tape delays:

"HAPPENING NOW ON NBC - Verdict expected any minute in OJ Simpson trial. Stay tuned for developing story. #NBCFail"

"BREAKING - Jesse Owens wins gold in 100m sprint #NBCFail"

"Mitt Romney will release his tax returns but NBC will not broadcast them until this December #NBCfail #p2 #tcot"

Another Twitter account, called Fake NBC Exec, is even chiming in:

"Make sure you tune in tonight so you can watch all the events our app pushed to you this afternoon #NBCfail"

But the fact that NBC is setting viewership records while simultaneously setting online criticism records may suggest a chasm in the Olympic viewers–the impatient web watchers and the folks who either delay gratification or simply have no access to the Internet, radio or television during working hours.

With such a divided and mutually-exclusive audience, couldn't the argument be made for NBC running the main events live, and repeating them in primetime? With numbers like 28.7 million a night, people are either withholding during the day by choice, or simply don't mind watching the events streaming online and again during the national broadcast.

Do you think the Internet is ruining Olympics coverage? Share your opinion in the comments.

Judith M. Smith July 31, 2012 at 08:18 PM
No...money is ruining the Olympic spirit...too many professionals and semi-professionals, too many designer drugs (I am convinced....) that cannot be tested for..

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