Social media spoilers are inevitable when the broadcasting network decides to block-out selected events and save them for primetime. This became evident to me as I experienced the Olympics during the first three days.
It began on Friday when I settled to watch the opening ceremony. At this time I briefly considered the fact that the broadcast was not live on the East Coast of the United States, where I live. I also realized that people on the West Coast would see the opening extravaganza three hours after me.
I said to myself that it did not matter because viewing a delayed broadcast of an opening event, sure to be considered historic, would not change my viewing experience. Such a situation is equivalent to one's willingness to watch a television series knowing that it is a recorded production.
Things were different when I selectively viewed the first events on Saturday live on Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC, and NBC Sports. The multiple broadcasts were also complemented with apps for mobile media, well supported with the nbcolympics.com website.
Throughout the day I checked Twitter and Facebook for updates and comments. I soon learned that Michael Phelps took fourth place in the Men's 400m Individual Medley, while Ryan Lochte took first, winning the gold. However, I was not able to experience the historic moment until primetime on NBC. At this point I was more interested in knowing how it happened, and was no longer invested in the event as I would have, had it been live.
The same thing happened again on Sunday when Lochte and Phelps participated in the men's 4x100-meter freestyle relay only to come second to France. Again, I learned about this in the late afternoon, but I waited to view it during primetime on NBC.
The decision by NBC to select certain events, from earlier in the day, and broadcast them during primetime began to be discussed as soon as Saturday, and by Sunday, stories were written on different online publications. Entertainment Weekly, in particular, ran two extensive stories. NBC apparently made its decision in order to attain higher ratings during its primetime broadcast. Understandably some people are quite unhappy about NBC's decision, which is why, as I write this, the hash tag #nbcfail is still going strong with rants.
After viewing the events on Sunday night, however, I don't think that the problem for NBC is that selected events are shown well after they take place. The problem, in my view, is that NBC appears to be selecting the wrong events for delayed broadcast at night.
To be specific, both on Saturday and Sunday during primetime, NBC went back and forth between gymnastics and swimming. When swimming came on, I could not help but think that I was about to see something which had already taken place. But with gymnastics, I did not mind the delayed broadcast at all. Why, I thought? I came to the conclusion that it has to do with the type of sport.
Swimming is an action sport, which deals with extreme physical performance dependent on time. It is defined by exciting moments such as when your favorite athlete does not even take third place. Add to this the possibility of breaking a world record, and you are sure to have a nail-biting experience as a viewer. Such thrill is unlikely to happen with a delayed broadcast of a major swimming competition such as Lochte's and Phelps' once it has been spoiled earlier in the day due to social media and online news sources.
Gymnastics, on the other hand, is a sport about physical strength, precision and gracefulness. Add to this the fact that it depends on points given by judges who, in large part, rely on aesthetics, and we have a dynamic that is closer to viewing a theatrical performance, and not so different from viewing the opening ceremony. Gymnastics is one of my favorite categories in the Olympics, and I don't think I have ever experienced them live.
NBC's situation actually makes apparent the fact that major networks need to better understand how to create a worthwhile experience for viewers who are likely to know already much about sporting events that took place early in the day (in this case the Olympics) which they decide to deliver during primetime.
If a network decides to hold out on a sport defined by its physical excitement, such as swimming, then an effort should be made in creating a viewing experience about how and why something happened and not "what will happen." This approach would then make the juxtaposition of swimming and gymnastics a better fit given their differences as I explained. With this more realistic approach Bob Costas will not have to say "no spoilers" as he introduces the taped segment of Lochte winning gold while Phelps takes none, hoping that the viewers will have a thrilling experience. I did not.