NBC criticized for not airing Phelps race live

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NBC’s live vs. tape Olympic Games debate already has its Exhibit A.

Viewers slammed the broadcaster for choosing to delay the telecast of Michael Phelps’ dramatic men’s 400-meter individual medley race until primetime.

The Saturday midmorning race concluded with Ryan Lochte winning the gold medal and Phelps shockingly finishing fourth. The network instead chose to air a taped interview.

Fans took to social media to express their outrage with the decision.

“I can’t believe NBC isn’t putting Phelps first medal attempt live,” wrote University of Texas journalism professor Robert J. Quigley on Twitter. “Is a monkey running that network?”

NBA player Dirk Nowitzki tweeted: “Can’t believe they didn’t show Phelps Lochte live. Now, we all know who won. This is frustrating.”

Later, fans hit the broadcaster a second time — for NBC News revealing the outcome of the race before airing the taped coverage. “So bizarre!” tweeted author Will Bunch. “NBC won’t show Lochte-Phelps live at 2:30, but it’s lead story on 6:30 Nightly News w/ no spoiler alert #nbcfail.”

Of course, complaining about major Olympic events being delayed until primetime is practically its own sport (and knocking NBC for showing events live in primetime that might seem unworthy of the time period is a close runner up — sometimes a network can’t win either way). Fans who are determined to watch the Olympics live can stream the events on NBC’s Olympics website. But with the rise of mobile devices and social media, hearing the winner of such a pivotal race is pretty tough to avoid for many connected fans who still prefer to watch television in the traditional way.

“The world has changed,” one sports fan wrote on Twitter. “This tape delay thing doesn’t work anymore.”

NBC earns higher rates from advertisers by airing the day’s biggest events in primetime, when more viewers are likely to tune in. The network claimed Saturday that its tape-delay strategy was already paying off, with ratings for the Opening Ceremony drawing its biggest audience ever for a summer telecast. NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus said in a statement, “This audience number for the London Opening Ceremony is a great early sign that our strategy of driving people to watch NBC in primetime is working.”

Of course, the multi-hour pageantry of the Opening Ceremony isn’t quite the same as the outcome of a highly anticipated race. I mean, really — spoiler alert, there are fireworks.

NBC did not return a request for comment on the Phelps race, but one of the broadcast network’s competitors defended the Peacock — sort of. “Yes, from a ratings perspective [it's smart to tape delay],” the rival executive wrote via email, but also noted: “It’s cynical to do what they are doing. People will now tune in to see the agony of defeat.”

Wrote one critic, who along with other viewers had difficulty watching the swimming event via NBC’s online stream: “There’s little reason NBC would change strategies midway through the Olympics … NBC just better get used to getting skewered every time something like this happens.”

UPDATE: NBC’s tape-delay victory: Saturday’s Olympics ratings soar

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