Olympics a TV hit, even if we know results

Matt Baker said that even though he often knows Olympic results, he watches the delayed prime-time broadcast with an eye toward the athletes' reactions.

When Matt Baker tunes in to the Olympics at home after work each night, something is missing.

“The surprise factor,” he said at the Kickin’ Chicken in West Ashley on Tuesday afternoon.

That’s because the most-hyped events — like Sunday’s showdown between American swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in the 400 individual medley — have been held on a tape delay for prime-time broadcast.

But their results have not.

That information flows freely online. Video streams live on the Internet, and winners and losers are broadcast in news sites, smartphone alerts and flurries of tweets, lamenting or celebrating an outcome hours before it is broadcast on NBC.

The delays, often by several hours, have caused an uproar for many users, and the hashtag “NBCfail” has surged into popular use, inspiring a torrent of tweets of its own.

That hasn’t stopped Baker, though. His iPhone sat beside his beer at the Kickin’ Chicken bar, and he said he keeps up with results in real time.

And although the surprise is hours past, he still finds value in watching the prime-time coverage.

There, he can watch the athletes react, see how victory — or loss — was received, and share in the games’ collective excitement.

Tom Warren is more passive in his following of the Olympics, but like Baker he can’t escape the deluge of information.

“You can’t not know the results if you’re online at all,” Warren said.

He sees the medal count every time he checks his email on Yahoo!, and to get there he sees the day’s top stories, which include a number of Olympics headlines.

The site featured articles on Phelps’ record-breaking 19th career Olympic medal and on the U.S. women’s gymnastics team’s gold medal on its homepage Tuesday.

Both were given vague descriptions and links inviting readers to see the full story that warned, in all caps, “SPOILER ALERT.”

Warren thinks the delay acknowledges that the games are something of an entertainment event.

He would rather see the U.S.’ medal-winning performances rebroadcast in prime time and keep American athletes on TV throughout the day, he said, pointing at a screen showing the first minutes of the French men’s basketball team’s victory over Argentina.

As he sees it, the current model of tape delays is more like watching a classic football game rebroadcast than catching it live.

“If one of my favorite teams is on (a rebroadcast), then I might stay for a while and watch it, because I want to relive how I felt back then,” Warren said. “But there’s no carryover of feeling here.”

Jamal Amer, the owner of Jamal’s Sports Bar, in West Ashley, tends to agree.

Business was slow in the early afternoon Tuesday, when many events were being shown live, but he said it picks up when people get off work and drop in for happy hour and the prime-time events.

They had not complained about the delays, he said, and tended to enjoy viewing the events for the sake of watching them unfold.

The excitement hasn’t diminished, he said, with the rising popularity of Twitter and increasing flow of early information.

Still, the competitions fall right in the bar’s slow season, about a month before football season kicks off, and Amer and Andrew Pohl, the bar’s manager, said they didn’t boost traffic too much.

“The Olympics are pretty hit-or-miss,” Pohl said.

For NBC, they seem to be hitting this year.

An average of 35.8 million people tuned in at prime time to watch the Olympics in their first three days, according to the Nielsen Co. That’s up from 30.6 million per night four years ago, when the games were held in Beijing.

And even if another network had won the Olympics’ broadcast rights, it’s not clear that things would be much different.

Just ask Leslie Moonves, the president and chief executive officer of CBS.

“I think almost definitely we would have done the same thing.” Moonves said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow Thad Moore on Twitter @thadmoore.