July 31, 2012 in Nation/World

Critics bashing NBC, but ratings earning gold

Olympics attract huge audience despite delayed broadcasts
David Bauder Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Learning about U.S. swimmer Missy Franklin’s gold medal and other results is easy online. Watching many of the key events live on TV isn’t so simple.
(Full-size photo)

Tweet leads to suspension

 LONDON – Twitter has suspended the account of a Los Angeles-based reporter for a British newspaper who included the email address of the NBC Olympics president and asked his followers to write him to complain about the network’s coverage.

 Guy Adams, a correspondent for The Independent, was upset with the network’s decision to broadcast the opening ceremony on tape delay when he sent his critical tweet Friday afternoon.

 “The man responsible for NBC pretending the Olympics haven’t started yet is Gary Zenkel. Tell him what u think!” it read, before going on to provide his corporate email listing.

 Adams checked his Twitter account Sunday and received a message it had been suspended. He then received an email Monday that attributed the move to his tweet that included Zenkel’s email.

 “We filed a complaint with Twitter because a user tweeted the personal information of one of our executives,” NBC Sports said in a statement Monday.  “According to Twitter, this is a violation of their privacy policy. Twitter alone levies discipline.”

Associated Press

NEW YORK – Look online, and it seems everyone has a complaint about NBC’s Olympics coverage. Look at the ratings – the report card that really matters to NBC – and the London games are a smash hit.

The Nielsen company said 36 million people watched Sunday night’s coverage, the biggest audience for the second night of a non-U.S. summer Olympics competition since TV began covering them in 1960. Counting the opening ceremonies on Friday, an average of 35.8 million people have tuned in for the three nights, well above the 30.6 million who watched the first three nights in Beijing in 2008 and considerably more than the 24 million who saw the first three nights of the Athens games of 2004.

This is the opposite of most TV programs, where declining ratings are the rule rather than the exception. But it reflects how broadcast television has become a destination for big events and how social media is driving viewership.

“The ratings are surprising to me,” said Andrew Billings, a sports media professor at the University of Alabama and author of “Olympic Media: Inside the Biggest Show on Television.” “I thought social media would be more of a detriment than an attribute. I thought more people would not tune in because they knew the results.”

Billings said he’s tried to avoid learning the results of events before he watches NBC’s tape-delayed prime-time telecast. But it’s hard: He didn’t want to hear about Ryan Lochte’s gold medal victory over Michael Phelps on Saturday, but when his mobile phone beeped that afternoon, he looked and saw a CNN news alert telling him what happened.

NBC knew more people would know the results before prime time in an increasingly wired world, if only because the company is streaming all competition live online as it happens. It hasn’t seemed to matter much to viewers, however. The network isn’t publicly saying, but the London ratings have exceeded their expectations.

That has financial implications for NBC Universal and its parent Comcast Corp. NBC has said it will lose money telecasting these Olympics, largely due to the expense of working in London, but the strong ratings will enable the network to sell more of its remaining advertising slots for the rest of the games, and at higher prices than expected.

Twitter has been flooded with gripes about NBC keeping most days’ marquee events off the air until they can be shown in prime-time, the broadcast that brings in the most viewers and advertising revenue for the network. But many of the gripers are apparently watching anyway and, for many people, knowing the results whets their appetite for wanting to see how the competition played out.

Many of the Twitter complaints are posted with the hash tag #nbcfail. Another entertaining destination of Twitter – #NBCDelayed – displays joking tweets of NBC delaying other events: “Breaking: Orville and Wilbur Wright’s machine flies” and “Tune in tomorrow for the Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing.”

Yet NBC’s audience size is outpacing the Beijing games, even though the network had live coverage of two of Phelps’ gold medal races on the first two nights of competition four years ago.

With fewer comedies and dramas grabbing large audiences, Americans are turning more toward big events as communal gathering places. The last three Super Bowls are the top three most-watched shows in television history. Both the Grammy and Academy awards shows reached nearly 40 million people this year. Many people watch these events and converse digitally with their friends.

Even on Sunday afternoon, NBC had 16 million viewers for its Olympics coverage, a number that exceeds virtually all other prime-time shows this summer.

“There are so few water cooler programs left that when we see one, we hold on to it,” Billings said. “Even when we complain about it.”

© Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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