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Rick Lubbers, Forum Communications, Published August 01 2012

Lubbers: Delayed Olympics coverage outmoded in live, online world

A warning to our readers: This column is tape-delayed. Everything I have written may already have occurred by the time you read this.

Unfortunately, NBC isn’t offering that sort of advisory, and instead insists you wait for its prime-time lineup to watch the most popular events at the Summer Olympics in London — hours after they’ve already occurred.

Despite the fact that the network makes every event available live on its Internet site and most of the competition on cable and satellite channels as far-flung as Bravo and Telemundo, NBC consistently keeps marquee events off the air in favor of its tape-delayed programming.

If you wanted to watch Friday night’s Opening Ceremonies as they happened, you were out of luck unless you found an alternative website.

If you planned to see U.S. men’s swimmer Ryan Lochte win gold in the 400-meter individual medley live on Saturday, or Michael Phelps choke in the same event, hope you had something to do to fill six hours.

All that’s fine, if you like your Olympics TV coverage shown after all of the athletes have been tucked into their Olympic Village beds and you don’t mind staying up past your bedtime to watch it all. Not to mention enduring all those fireside chats from Bob Costas, who tries in vain to act like the time-condensed events are live — as live as whatever seems to be sitting on his head.

It gives a whole new meaning to “Must-See TV.”

Living in the age of Twitter, Facebook and instantaneous Internet news, tape-delayed coverage belongs on a museum shelf next to 8-track players, Atari game systems and Betamax videotapes. If you preferred the pre-CNN days of huddling around your TV after supper and watching one of the Big Three networks’ nightly news shows, NBC’s taped-delays are perfect for you.

But we live in an age of instantly reported news. Today’s athletes are busy tweeting their results moments after they climb out of the pool or walk off the court. Facebook’s countless minions are opining on all things Olympics 24/7, and seemingly every website you open contains a page full of Olympics results well ahead of NBC’s nighttime show.

If you’re hoping to watch the tape-delayed action blissfully unaware of the results, you’d need an Olympic-sized rock to hide under to shut out all of that media overkill.

And even if you do manage to block out the rest of the world and sink into your couch to wait for the Peacock to warm up on your picture tube, the network itself can spoil the outcomes. On Monday night, Costas and crew spent a lot of time setting the stage for American Missy Franklin swimming in the 100 backstroke finals. But seconds after cutting away to commercial, the network aired a “Today” show promo with “gold-medal winner Missy Franklin.”

All that suspense evaporated quicker than you could say “Good luck, Ann Curry.”

NBC executives always trot out their boffo ratings to justify their delayed coverage, and maybe you can’t blame them; it’s their tried-and-true formula for paying the bills. But it’s also flawed. Sure, they get the numbers, but who wouldn’t when you’re up against “Ice Road Truckers”? There’s no legitimate competition for viewers, no matter what the Oprah channel has on.

So why not give viewers what they want? Let them watch the events as they unfold live. Not hours later. Then give them a revamped — and shorter — prime-time show that includes highlights of the day’s events, features on athletes (not just U.S. athletes, either) and sets the stage for the following day’s competition. And all that drama can be shifted back to when the events actually happen, and not be manufactured in a studio.

NBC will still reap a ratings whirlwind that satisfies its advertisers and the network will move its 1980s-style Olympic coverage into 2012.

Rick Lubbers is the sports editor at the Duluth News Tribune