The olympics are way less fun now.
July 31, 2012 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Have olympic spoilers always been this bad? I'm so so very annoyed to already know the outcome of tonights gymnastics, just like I've inadvertantly known the outcome of almost every event I am interested in so far in these games. Even though I try to avoid the obvious spoiler media outlets, I can't ignore everything; esp not elevator tv's, the radio, or overheard coversations at the cubicle farm. Are the days of sitting on the edge of my seat during the evening broadcast, jumping for joy at an unexpected gold over? Or has it always been this way and I'm just catching up now?
posted by shimmer to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's not just you. This year's coverage is known crap. There's no (free, non-stupid) way to get live broadcasts in the US.
posted by phunniemee at 11:02 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

It has not always been this way.

Once upon a time, network TV covered many of the events live. Some of them were broadcast via tape-delay, but this was before the advent of the 24-hours news cycle and social media. You were not likely to encounter spoilers for the events that were being time-shifted.

The new normal for the Olympics is the product of NBC's need to recoup the massive pile of money that they laid out for the rights to the Games. They need large ad dollars, and the largest ad dollars come from prime time ad buys. Therefore, massive time shifting into the prime-time viewing hours.
posted by DWRoelands at 11:02 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's probably a little harder to avoid getting spoiled now than it was in the past, but really any time in the mass-media age it was hard not to hear about results in marquee sports. We slightly exaggerate the pervasiveness of up-to-the-minute news nowadays compared to the pre-Internet era. After all, a lot of people used to work in offices where someone would have a radio on all day, and the radio news would certainly mention important Olympic results. If you walked home (or to lunch) past newspaper sellers and newspaper stands there's a good chance you might see a headline. If you went down town there'd be a good chance of overhearing a radio or a conversation etc.

I can remember being in Montreal when the news that Ben Jonson had been suspended for doping broke. I was sitting on a bus at the time and someone must have been listening to a radio. Instantly the whole bus was talking about it. I can't imagine anyone not knowing that news almost instantly if they weren't staying inside with the radio and TV off.
posted by yoink at 11:06 AM on July 31, 2012

It's the problem of timezones of other countries not meshing with the American timezones. So yeah, your memories of mostly US-based olympics were good, because everything was really live.

I remember Bejing being so many hours behind us was a problem (some sports were on at 2am streaming online) and it looks like London being 6-9hrs ahead means US TV primetime requires tape delay.
posted by mathowie at 11:07 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Reasons for increased Olympic spoilers:

1. Time Zone. London is hours ahead, and so the events happen during the day, US time. This means those events can be watched live via...
2. Streaming. People who really care, or who are in the sports reporting business can easily watch the events through the streaming options and then easily transmit those results through...
3. Social Media and 24-Hour News Cycle. There are so many avenues for those results to be casually communicated that taking a "radio silence" approach is not feasible.

Consider, the iOS App Store went live 1 month before the Beijing Olympics, but today basically anyone with a cable subscription can watch any event on their phone.

Take heart though, Rio 2016 is only an hour ahead of the east coast, so a lot of major events could be broadcast live.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:11 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm 28. My experience is that every non-Western-Hemisphere olympics has been tape-delayed. It has never been my experience that we'd watch gymnastics at 10am when it was "live" and then again in prime time. Before NBC had heavy cable coverage of the Olympics, they simply wouldn't have very much coverage at all.
posted by muddgirl at 11:12 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Olympics are a news event to some and a nightly TV show to others. There's no way to make both groups happy.
posted by acidic at 11:23 AM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's not just you. Literally right after I saw this question I got a NYT push alert on my phone about an American win (won't spoil in this thread beyond that). There are so many ways that we get news these days.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:24 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's impossible to keep yourself in the Cone of Silence these days. Simply impossible. You can avoid the internet, and the radio, and whatever else, but other people are going to be aware of what's happening, and they're going to talk about it no matter what protections you've taken. And then it's spoiled.

I had an excellent plan to keep myself in the Cone of Silence for the European Championships, which aren't as big a deal as the Olympics are, and -- fuck. It was a losing battle. Avoiding all news outlets all day, and the people in the office would give it away, or I'd be passed by honking cars with giant flags on my walk home. Thanks. Some of us have to work today.

Don't try to avoid it. That way madness lies. Keep it to a headline level, and there's still enjoyment to be had seeing how it plays out, or just who beat your country's guy for silver and gold, anyway.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:27 AM on July 31, 2012

There's no (free, non-stupid) way to get live broadcasts in the US.

"For the first time, NBC Sports is showing all competition and medal ceremonies live over the Internet in the U.S. The unprecedented online coverage addresses one of my biggest gripes with Olympics coverage in past years: NBC used to withhold the popular sports for prime-time television and show them on a delayed basis."

I don't understand the original question and all these comments. Do people not know they can watch the Olympics live on their computer?
posted by andoatnp at 11:31 AM on July 31, 2012

You must have a TV subscription with a cable, satellite or phone company at a service level that comes with CNBC and MSNBC.
Lots of people don't have cable.
posted by muddgirl at 11:34 AM on July 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

Do people not know they can watch the Olympics live on their computer?

And even if they do have cable, the demands of work/school/family may keep them from watching live during the day, so the evening re-broadcast is actually quite nice, aside from the spoiler issue.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:36 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

People have been complaining about the NBC Olympic coverage for a very long time.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 11:38 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do people not know they can watch the Olympics live on their computer?

I was excited about this and went to sign up on the first day, only to discover that I can't watch any events at all because I do not have a pay TV subscription. Even the events that air on NBC (free over-the-air) cannot be streamed unless you have a cable/satellite subscription. Very, very lame.
posted by Nothlit at 11:39 AM on July 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

[Folks maybe be careful about mentioning wins/losses/countries/etc in this thread, please?]
posted by jessamyn at 11:40 AM on July 31, 2012

Are the days of sitting on the edge of my seat during the evening broadcast, jumping for joy at an unexpected gold over?


The days of getting home, turning on the six o'clock news, and being surprised by any piece of reasonably-major news that didn't happen during your commute are pretty well dead. Olympic results included.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:50 AM on July 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's not just Twitter/Facebook/web and the news cycle: it's that VPNs and proxies are more prevalent and easier to configure now than in previous Olympics, so Americans are getting to see what other countries' broadcasters do with their coverage, when previously it was limited to a relatively small percentage near the borders with access to Canadian or Mexican stations.

the evening re-broadcast is actually quite nice, aside from the spoiler issue.

All broadcasters curate the Olympics to some degree, and produce evening roundups that focus on events with national interest while mixing in the best contests of the day for neutral observers. However, NBC is out on a limb in its decision to relegate live coverage of high-profile events to streams. Most broadcasters treat the Olympics as a chance to demonstrate their technical prowess across multiple platforms; NBC clings to its primetime network package, because that's what it does, and that's where the ad money is. It's a prison canteen, contracted to serve up a product that meets nutritional and budgetary guidelines to a captive audience that historically has had no alternative.

I'm not American; I have been getting up at antisocial hours to watch the Olympics live, on television, for the best part of three decades. The thing that NBC presents as "the Olympics" does not resemble the event I and many others grew up watching, and we now have the means to tell Americans about it.
posted by holgate at 11:53 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Rio 2016 is only an hour ahead of the east coast, so a lot of major events could be broadcast live.

Nope. People on the west coast of the US saw the Vancouver Olympics on tape delay of anywhere between six and twenty-four hours. It's not going to get any less ridiculous for Rio.
posted by moammargaret at 12:20 PM on July 31, 2012

Olympic spoilers have not always been this bad, but that's been primarily because of access rather than some voluntary silence on the part of newscasters. Consider that the 1980 Miracle on Ice and even the 1996 gymnastics finals were broadcast on tape delay, and there seemed to be a collective national experience of watching those moments. There were no other opportunities to watch those events except the national broadcast, and newspapers/TV didn't publish immediately. So when the national network packaged it all together, they knew that everyone would be experiencing it for the first time.

Now, as noted above, NBC offers a lot of live coverage on their sister stations and on the internet, and tech-savvy Americans have figured out how to watch Canadian, or English, or even Chinese streams of live events. So when NBC puts together its nightly show, it has to assume that many people already know what's going to happen. That leads to dumb things like a teaser for an interview with a gold medal winner immediately before the event that she is in. They are making both sides mad - offering live streams and sometimes reporting results that happened earlier in the day even as they present a tape-delayed package of events.

And though radio and TV have always been around, the immediate reporting of sports outcomes is relatively new, along with the aggregation of news on the internet and commentary on Facebook and Twitter. NBC is the only outlet that has money at stake for delaying results - and they have a lot of money at stake. Literally everyone else has a monetary interest in reporting as it happens. So you get NBC continuing to delay, and the (increasing) cacophony continuing to crank out real-time news.
posted by AgentRocket at 12:32 PM on July 31, 2012

moammargaret: "It's not going to get any less ridiculous for Rio."

Well, I originally had "will be broadcast live" and then I realized I was underestimating NBC. I do think that an hour ahead may be ideal for the prospect of Olympics on live TV (at least on the east coast), but you never know.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:50 PM on July 31, 2012

Just a data point, I just got an alert from my local news app that started with "SPOILER ALERT:" and then went on to tell me that "U.S. Olympic _____ Team has won the _____ medal in London!"

Seriously. They put the blanks in there.
posted by teleri025 at 1:20 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can set up a VPN account for $10 and 5 minutes of your time. I just watched the men's gold medal foil bout live from the comfort of my computer in the USA. I don't have qualifying cable for the NBC streams. The BBC coverage is so much better I might do the same thing next Olympics even if I can watch it live on TV.

So yes, spoilers are worse because information travels freely and nearly instantly across borders and timezones. Generally speaking, this is a good thing.
posted by COD at 1:21 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, I think it's much worse. In the 1990s I remember radio and news announcers would at least warn about spoilers and tell you to turn off the sound for the next minute if you didn't want to hear the results. Now you don't even get that: they'll just tell you about the results without even acknowledging that some people might not want to know. Grrr.
posted by McPuppington the Third at 1:55 PM on July 31, 2012

I remember the same thing with the Beijing and Sydney Olympics. If you don't want to know the winners, you just have to turn off the damn news. It's more peaceful that way anyway. Even if they did do a spoiler alert, it was useless and titillating, like "if you're a fan of American swimmers, you are in for a golden surprise!"

I think part of the problem? is that NBC is vomiting forth coverage at an unheard of pace, and some of it is live and some of it isn't. So other broadcasters may not know what is live or not. And why should they care? NBC's broadcast schedule isn't their problem.

I don't mind some tape delay, partially because I am watching it on my own DVR delayed even further. It makes the coverage a little more polished. They can weave together more events to fill the time instead of vamping for 10 minutes between each heat.

Despite the absolutely vapid and moronic commentating that was done during the opening ceremonies ("the pastoral scene signifies a pastoral past! The giant gears and smokestacks represent the industrial revolution!" THANKS), my opinion is that NBC is doing a great job of coverage.
posted by gjc at 4:11 PM on July 31, 2012

Even the delayed stuff is bad. Watching gymnastics last night the announcers kept talking about a "disastrous" vault from a non-US team, hinted it may even be an injury, and NEVER SHOWED IT. They felt that keeping focus on an American gymnast putting chalk on his hands for 5 min was a better option. And the medal ceremonies, they tight-focus on the American to the point you'd be forgiven for assuming there weren't two other people standing there with medals, because you never see them except maybe for 5 seconds during the obligatory group hug photo op at the end.

It's always kind of bad. But it seems worse this time around, yes.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:13 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's kind of rough for general sports fans, too, because ESPN channels have the ticker running continuously on the bottom, with frequent Olympic results. If you're really serious about avoiding spoilers, you either have to be good at not letting your eyes wander, or putting something on to block out the ticker.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 9:48 PM on July 31, 2012

Watching gymnastics last night the announcers kept talking about a "disastrous" vault from a non-US team, hinted it may even be an injury, and NEVER SHOWED IT.

I only watched the beginning of gymnastics coverage last night, but I remember seeing a disastrous vault landing from one of the Russian girls. Is that what they were talking about? Because, well, they did show that.
posted by phatkitten at 8:21 AM on August 1, 2012

The Olympics are a news event to some and a nightly TV show to others. There's no way to make both groups happy.

It's true. The spoiler is a recent phenomenon that has grown as our media options have become more diverse. It used to be that if you wanted to see a movie you went when it was released, or hoped to catch it in a second run theater or on broadcast TV. Spoilers were called "endings," and a film's publicity might say something like "See for yourself the shocking conclusion that everyone's talking about." We all experienced TV and radio broadcast at pretty much the same time. When huge shows like Dallas or MASH had their finales, the details were all over the papers the next day. (There was home taping with the advent of the VCR, but that was a small number of people and they weren't given widespread consideration.) Sports results were news and if you wanted to follow a day game you kept the radio on at work. When sports weren't broadcast live, the fact that it was a tape delay was mentioned explicitly.

Media consumption is different these days. If I want to watch anything, movie or TV, I might catch it on cable or satellite, stream it, wait for the DVD release, or get a pirated version. Digital video recording is so much easier to use than clunky and hard-to-program VCRs. The norm is that we consume the same content in different formats at different times, and etiquette over spoilers reflects that. Sports results are still news, though. If I'm busy with something else on Superbowl Sunday, I'd have a hard time not hearing the results.

NBC's evening Olympic coverage is carefully programed and edited for their main audience, who want to see lots of focus on American athletes (and their moms) in the top marquee sports. NBC's broadcast coverage is one choice, but a lot of us want something different, whether we follow a different national team or a less popular sport or just want to see more well-rounded coverage. And we do have options. I haven't seen NBC's cable or online coverage, but I just watched the men's cycling time trial on BBC1 and it was great. Jessamyn's got a nice how-to on her blog, which is where I found my BBC link.
posted by hydrophonic at 9:43 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was coming in to say the same as COD. I don't have cable, so I am watching the BBC coverage, which is SO much better than what I can see on NBC. #NBCfail indeed.

But with the amount I'm on Twitter and with CNN news alerts, I've known all the major gymnastics and swimming results even before I could stream them. It's not ruining it for me, but I'd prefer not to know.
posted by guster4lovers at 6:32 PM on August 1, 2012

I think it's rose-tinted glasses that things weren't always tape delayed. Marquee events have always been shown during primetime, and 10-15-20 years ago, there weren't even cable stations to show stuff. So it was broadcast NBC/CBS, or nothing.

It's more that 10 years ago, no one had internet access on them at all times. And 15 years ago, most people didn't even have internet access at work. So how exactly were you going to get spoiled? By the radio? Maybe, but they had no incentive to ruin things.
posted by smackfu at 7:46 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

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