Tape delay isn’t discouraging NBC’s Olympic viewers

NEW YORK — NBC’s researchers are finding that people who know the results of London Olympics events before they are shown on tape delay are more — not less — likely to watch them.

The preliminary research unveiled Thursday undercuts an assumption that has guided production of Olympic broadcasts from locales outside of U.S. time zones for decades. NBC has been criticized for not televising live some of the London Games’ marquee events like swimming and gymnastics so they can be aired later in prime time.

Two-thirds of people questioned in a survey Sunday said they watch the prime-time Olympics telecast even if they know the results ahead of time. People who watched the events live earlier in the day via computer screen watched the tape-delayed broadcast 50 percent longer than those who hadn’t, said Alan Wurtzel, NBC’s chief researcher.

NBC has been getting far better ratings for the London Games than it ever expected, outpacing the 2008 Games in Beijing. A month ago, NBC had predicted it would lose some $200 million on the games, but network executives said Wednesday the company would break even. NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus said Thursday the company could even make money if the good ratings continued.

The network is airing all of the competition live via video stream. But the network’s decision to hold back big events because no live competition takes place during U.S. prime time has led to widespread complaints on social media. The longtime theory was that fewer people would watch in prime time if they could see them live earlier.

Lazarus held back when asked whether this would mean tape delay will become a thing of the past after the London Games.

“We will continue to innovate our coverage,” he said on a conference call Thursday. “I won’t make a proclamation here about what we are going to do, but be sure we are analyzing everything.”

The company Usamp questioned 1,000 adults who said they had watched Olympics competition. The survey found that 43 percent of the people who watched the prime-time telecasts said they knew the results before tuning in.

Wurtzel said that the Olympics are encouraging consumers to try new things. Some 75 percent of people who said they had tried streaming Olympics coverage on tablets said they had never streamed video before on the devices.

Olympics viewership was up 28 percent among teenagers over Beijing, even more sharply among teenage girls.

“Why is this important? Wurtzel said. “Because we’re cultivating the next Olympics generation.”

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