According to Nielsen, 219.4 million viewers tuned into watch the Olympics on NBC this year. That’s roughly 70% of the US population. If you’re reading this, you were probably one of those 219 million people.
In the more than 50 million tweets posted about the Olympics from July 27 through August 12, some 92,226 tweets included the #NBCFail hashtag. These were posted by 53K different Twitter accounts, and included lots (and lots) of complaints and jokes about NBC’s tape delay, as well as some helpful workarounds for those who wanted to watch live. The first tweet we found that used the #NBCFail hashtag was this tweet from @marcslove posted on July 25, 2012 at 2:29 p.m. PDT (and not the tweet posted a day later from @stevenmarx as reported by certain other sources).
On Twitter at least, people seemed to hate the tape delay, railing against it with their #NBCFail tweets. But the funny thing is, they still watched Olympic coverage on NBC. Did they ever.
A few days into the games, we were convinced that the tape delay was damaging fan participation and goodwill in the games, and NBC’s ratings would be down because of it. But it really didn’t seem to matter – NBC’s ratings were up and higher than ever. Maybe it’s because fans had no choice, and they really had to depend on NBC’s delayed coverage to see the events that mattered to them; live coverage was scarce and difficult to find. Or maybe it’s that noisy voices on Twitter simply don’t reflect larger public opinion. But, what it comes down to is the tape delay actually seems to have made more people watch…
Alan Wurtzel, President of Research and Media Development at NBCUniversal was surprised by the network’s performance, and discussed a few reasons why so many people tuned into NBC’s Olympic coverage. Specifically, he said that people who knew the results of an event “were actually more likely to watch the primetime broadcast”. If this is true, this helps explain why, in spite of a very vocal dislike of the tape delay and rampant spoilers, people still watched more Olympics than ever. If you read tweets and articles about how exciting a particular race or game was, maybe you are more likely to tune in to watch that game when it airs later. Twitter functioned like one giant commercial for NBC’s Olympic coverage.
NBC also credits some of their success to a huge increase in their digital strategy around these Olympics, including an emphasis on mobile and social media. Twitter, for example, definitely helped spread the word. More than 50 million tweets were posted by 11 million different people. Because of this, younger viewers watched more Olympics this year than ever before. NBC says both kids and teens showed double digit gains in viewers this year, which likely contributed heavily to the strong ratings. We know teens are active in social media.
So, was the tape delay really an #NBCFail? Technically, we’ll never really know, because we don’t know how NBC would have done had they aired everything live. But it certainly doesn’t look like a fail from here.