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Olympics top 'Idol,' but tape delays anger viewers

NBC's Olympic broadcast tactics have some scrambling to avoid 'spoilers.'

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Thompson and others say that journalists and news outlets are under no obligation to include spoiler alerts – though they may seem a decent compromise for those not wanting to alienate readers.

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“News sites should be breaking news in real time and not worrying about the effect on delayed television broadcasts,” says Jeff McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University. “NBC's decision to delay broadcast of certain events to prime time is a sensible one, but that should have no bearing on the timing of what newspapers put on their web sites," he says. "This is a good time, however, for the managers of news web sites to carefully explain to readers the responsibility of news organizations to provide news in a timely fashion. It is not the job of news organizations to embargo legitimate news for the sake of live broadcast television.”

McCall says that although it is sports, Olympic results are important to have available in a timely fashion, prime time television delays or not. And, for every media consumer who doesn't want to know the results until the television broadcast, there are bound to be many who want to know the results right away.

“News web managers owe them that,” says McCall. “People who want to watch NBC tape delay as though it were live should just stay away from news web sites in the meantime.”

The episode points to an increasingly on-demand media environment, where consumers are getting used to having access to media content anytime, anywhere, and on any platform.

“These asynchronous patterns of viewing are becoming commonplace as consumers are empowered by time-shifting, streaming, and other on-demand technologies,” says Tom Ksiazek, assistant professor of communication at Villanova University. “Going away are the days when programmers had control over when people watch.”

Learning from the field of ethics might provide some insight here, say others. “Technology offers a number of simple opportunities here,” says Brian Moriarty of the Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics.

“A news site could offer vague and intriguing headlines about breaking Olympic news, such as 'Did Lindsey Vonn’s Ankle Hold Up in the Downhill? Find Out Now!' “This, or similar strategies, leave it up to the reader to decide whether or not it is more important to them to know now, or to watch the event not knowing the result. Some people don’t want to be forced to decide between keeping up with the news or enjoying the Olympics on TV. Some people want another option and editors ought to view this as an opportunity to create value for both their readers and their news organization.”

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