ENTERTAINMENT & MEDIA: DELAYED TELEVISION COVERAGE OF OLYMPICS

HOW VIEWERS ARE IMPACTED BY “TAPE DELAYED” COVERAGE OF 2010 VANCOUVER OLYMPICS

As a sports fan in California, “watching” the 2010 Olympics has been a frustrating experience. NBC has provided the west coast with little live coverage. So those of us who live in the “tape delayed” part of NBC’s coverage map have a choice: (a) cease using communication devices and social media to avoid learning of results; or (b) watching the television coverage in spite of knowing the result.

I received a message on Twitter from a reporter from the Los Angeles Times asking if I would speak on the record about the issue. Never one to turn down an opportunity to speak my mind, I agreed. The LA Times article appears here.

My thoughts on the implications of tape delayed coverage on viewers after the jump.

TAPE DELAYED COVERAGE IS AN ANACHRONISM

As an avid spectator of sports and other events on television, I have grown accustomed to seeing events as they happen. Satellite and cable television provide us with dozens of channels providing 24 hour live coverage of sports and news events. Other media also provide similar “real time” coverage of events, some of which can be delivered to our cell phones and PDAs. “Real time” updates — with scores, stats and sometimes play-by-play — are available on the internet. Twitter, Facebook and other social media also provide instantaneous updates of virtually everything happening around us.

All of which makes NBC’s decision to broadcast most Olympic events on a delayed basis to the Western United States very frustrating. The Vancouver Olympics are taking place in the Pacific time zone — not half a world away. Our friends on the east coast, and even in the midwest, can and do see many events live. However, those of us in the west are relegated to tape delayed coverage.

The practical effect of tape delayed coverage is that anyone who is “connected” will know the results before television coverage begins. Personally, knowing who won an event makes me less likely to watch most events. So I find only the most “eventful” events worth watching on tape delay.

Now, I’m probably not the typical viewer that NBC is targeting with its tape delayed coverage. But even if I were, NBC would still likely be inclined to keep this tape delayed strategy — to discourage the use of digital video recorders (DVR) and thereby protect sponsors and advertisers.

THE BURGEONING DVR PROBLEM

The growing popularity of DVRs is changing the way we watch television — and poses serious problems to broadcasters. I previously wrote about a technical copyright issue with some DVR machines. But even putting legal issues aside, broadcasters aren’t too keen on the DVR because it cedes control to viewers — control over when viewers watch programs and whether viewers use the technology to skip over those expensive commercials. So while the DVR is important new technology for viewers, the impact on broadcast television which relies heavily on advertising for its revenue cannot be underestimated. So the DVR, while providing a wider audience, also threatens the impact of advertising on programs watched via the DVR. This post in the BNET blog sums up the problem nicely.

So it’s understandable that NBC would want to minimize viewers’ ability to skip commercials in its broadcast of the Olympics. Viewers would be expected to record coverage during the workday to watch when they got home — and potentially skip those pesky commercials. And protecting sponsors from commercial skipping is understandable since NBC will need those sponsors to buy advertising in the future.

This provides little consolation to avid sports fans like me. At least, NBC is relenting a bit and allowing live streams for certain events on NBCOlympics.com. In fact, I’m watching the US v. Switzerland hockey quarterfinal game as I write this. However, the DVR problem is only going to get worse. Holding the viewing audience hostage to tape delayed coverage isn’t going to be the answer.