Gallup: People want Olympics televised live and in prime time

GallupJoe BlogThe Wall Street Journal
A new poll on the Olympics “suggests there is widespread dissatisfaction with NBC‘s decision to televise the most popular events solely on tape delay in the evening,” Gallup reports. Most Americans (59 percent) would prefer that NBC air the Olympics live on TV and again during prime time; just 12 percent would prefer solely tape-delayed TV coverage.

The preference for live and delayed broadcasts is strongest among people who said they’re watching the Games a lot, but it holds for most people who said they’re just watching a little.

One caveat: Gallup didn’t offer people the option to weigh in on live Web streaming, which is available.

Gallup says that while the tape-delay approach is reaching some key audiences desired by advertisers, it’s possible those people would watch even more if they could watch live on TV too.

The poll correlates with NBC’s research showing that most people who had heard about results during the day still planned to watch the prime-time broadcast that evening, and that people who watched events live were twice as likely to watch some of the same events again that night.

NBC’s Dick Ebersol, the architect of NBC’s approach to the Games, defended the network’s approach in an interview with Joe Posnanski.

“If someone wants to watch the Olympics live, they can do that online. That’s a very small percentage of people. We’ve done study after study where we ask people when they want to watch the Olympics. They say ‘after dinner.’ Every study, I’ve never seen it less than 80 percent, and it’s usually a lot higher than that.”

Ebersol said the heart of the disagreement over live vs. tape-delay is that NBC believes the Olympics are a great television event, not just a sporting event.

“The Olympics are the biggest family television there is. The Olympics are some of the last events where a whole family can gather around a television set and spend the night together.

“People talk about how we should treat this like sports? You know, we’re getting an 18 rating some nights. Do you know what rating we would get if this was not under the banner of the Olympics? We’d be lucky to get a 1 rating for some of these sports. … This is our business model. The newspaper people have their own business model. We’re in the television business. We’re here to make great television.” …

“The key is storytelling,” he says. “That’s by far the most important part of the Olympics. It’s the most important part of television. It’s not enough just to show the Games. We have to give people a reason to care, a reason to be invested.

Olympics junkies will want to read the whole interview, in part because Ebersol talks about how the end of the Cold War made the Games’ storytelling more difficult.

And now for something completely different: Kwame Dawes’ poem “Scavengers,” in The Wall Street Journal. (What, you don’t read the Journal’s poetry?) He uses Lolo Jones as an example of how the media treats athletes as they search for storylines.

The heroic arc, reduced to worn out cliché,
find the myth of squalid beginnings,
add a dollop of family tragedy,
(death is good but sick mothers are better)
tears at the edge of all remembrances,
and a speech for the people they win for. …

In this market place of manufactured
drama the virgin sprinter
with flowing hair, is too delicious
to ignore, and when the losers
are glorified for their failure,
and the winners are ignored
the perfect storm for the gluttonous
cameras is created.

Jones was the subject of an unflattering story in The New York Times, which declared the attention she has received was based “not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign.”

Jones said the story ripped her to shreds. Now Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane has weighed in:

I believe writers like Jere Longman, who does have a long and worthy track record at The Times, should have some room to express their hard-earned perspective. But this piece struck me as quite harsh and left me, along with others, wondering why the tone was so strong.

Related: Guardian photographer says he’s taking more chances at the Olympics because he’s shooting with three iPhones (Wired) | New York Times news apps team ventures into product development with Olympics syndication (Poynter)

Earlier: If Olympics broadcasts are so bad, why is NBC doing so well with them? (Poynter)

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  • David

    Yup. Like I’ve said for years, the IOC should allow only countries located in the Eastern Time Zone to host. . .

  • Anonymous

    When does Dick Ebersol eat dinner? NBC coverage doesn’t come on in the Pacific time zone until 8 p.m., and the most-anticipated events, like the 100-meter dash come on after 11 p.m. I would love to watch my favorite events — even when I know the outcome around dinner time. But I hate having to stay up until midnight to see events that occurred hours and hours earlier. 

  • Mark

    Ebersole asked the wrong question, that is, when do you want to watch? he should ask how do you want to watch-live, tape delay, both , or online? I’ve watched most events live online but not on, rather on a european website that broadcasts most sporting events. I’ve watched events in Russian, Polish, and German depending on which online feed had the best quality. Anyone could do it if they are online, without having to reconfigure their feed as some do to make it seem they are in Europe. The feeds come in from Eurosport in many languages. Its also how I watch European soccer live all season long.

  • Madalin Lowe

     In my country, Australia, we are 9 hours ahead of the UK, coverage starts at about 6pm and ends at 7am. It never would have occurred to Australian networks to air the Olympics on delay. Never, it is simply not an option. We have highlight reels twice a day (from 7am to 9am and then from 4pm to 6pm), but the presenters will always let us know what time the big races (and not even the Aussie-centric ones) will be on for us to set our alarm and wake up to watch. McDonald’s Australia tagline for this Olympics is “Proud supporters of everyone staying up.” You can have both. NBC has simply decided they’d rather not.

  • Edward Patrick

    Kind of difficult to air live, primetime programming when the Olympics are well out of US time zones…
    We can’t have both folks.

  • Edward Patrick

    Kind of difficult to air live, primetime programming when the Olympics are well out of US time zones…
    We can’t have both folks.

  • Andrew

    2016 is in Rio, so it won’t be an issue.

  • Anonymous

    This is part of the long death rattle of appointment television.  The reckoning already has come for nightly newscasts and most entertainment programs.  An event like the Super Bowl can still thrive because it happens at one time in one country.  

    I haven’t watched one Olympic moment live or on NBC’s gooey puddle of hype and schmaltz in the evening.  This poll is right, I expect, but the arthritic peacock will probably need another 4-8 years to figure that out.

  • Anonymous

    I question whether the vast majority of people really want to watch, for example, every contestant in every gymnastics event, including those far out of medal contention. Or whether they are really available to watch events live that are happening at 10 a.m. our time.

    NBC’s performance aside, I think most people actually prefer to have things packaged in a way that makes it possible to get all the major news in a reasonable time frame.

  • nick price

     NBC will be finding ways in 2014/2016 to air all events live

  • Anonymous

    “If someone wants to watch the Olympics live, they can do that online. ” If they pay for a cable/satellite subscription.