Despite record ratings in the first days of the Olympics, NBC is facing criticism for its insistence on delaying the broadcasts of the most popular events in order to attract primetime audiences in the United States.
According to news reports, 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 swimming medal record and Lebron James hoping to resurrect the basketball "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 television.
By 2:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday, the men's 400-meter individual medley—the first event for Phelps—had concluded, and fans on the East Coast had to avoid revealing headlines online for nearly six hours until they could watch on television as the American superstar failed to place.
With up-to-the-minute Internet coverage, 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, that 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, chimed in:
"Make sure you tune in tonight so you can watch all the events our app pushed to you this afternoon #NBCfail"
With audience numbers in the range of 28.7 million a night, people are either holding back on viewing during the day by choice, or simply don't mind watching the events streamed online and again during the national broadcast.
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