Oil and Water: Twitter and The London Olympics

It’s easy to fall into the trap of waxing poetic about the nostalgia of sports in the past. Baseball was easier to follow, players stayed with one team. The NBA Finals meant something because of dynasties. And so forth. I’d put the Olympics into that category, as well. Everyone would huddle around the television every four years and watch the coverage. It would transport the viewer into a different country, time zone, and culture. Then, eventually, the IOC began getting greedy, and who can blame them? First, they split up the winter and summer games so that audiences only had to wait two years between Olympiads. Brands could have more advertising opportunities, and they broadcast networks could also maximize airtime by tape-delaying key events held in different parts of the world.

And, so on and so on. This all, of course, has come to a halt with the 2012 London Olympics. I didn’t even bother this time around, because I knew it was going to be a giant cluster-f-bomb from the start, especially when I heard that NBC was going to broadcast events on tape-delay. Twitter has spread so widely since Beijing and Turino that NBC’s approach was simply going to fail, and while it makes sense for them on a broadcast-revenue basis, it ruins the experience for me. But, rather than just extrapolate from my own experience, I view this as the cost of real-time media, the cost of using Twitter as my main source of information. And, it just reinforces to me that Twitter is not only more valuable than NBC or other similar networks, but also much more relevant.

All this said, this Olympiad shows that real-time social media (especially Twitter) and the Olympics aren’t ready to be paired with one another. Whereas I love watching big U.S. sports events with Twitter as a second screen (a pairing like wine and cheese), the Olympics and Twitter is like mixing oil and water, where the result is just a mess. They don’t mix well, and the reason boils down to NBC’s miscalculation of user intent against their desire to maximize prime-time eyeballs. I don’t really blame any one entity for this, but I hope that moving forward, the big television networks think really hard about tape-delays, and that all players in the media ecosystem anticipate social media, especially Twitter, growing in strength with each future live sports event.

Haywire is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2014 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus