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Twitter vs. Tape Delay: How the 2012 Summer Olympics Reinforced That Timing Is Everything

Mobile devices and social media provide up-to-the-minute alerts on the 2012 Summer Games.

Social media meets tape delay may change how we watch future Olympic Games. For now, we’ve got carefully worded spoiler alerts, streaming video or tuning out until prime time.

The 2012 Summer Olympics are dominating the air waves, but despite the theoretical ratings-boosting move to show the most anticipated events in tape delay in prime time, social media is breaking all suspense by providing up-to-the-minute spoilers.

But this isn’t just unique to networks and daily news outlets. Some magazines are getting in on the action too.

Notably, one of the leading sports magazines—well, one of its social media extensions—drew the ire of some fans for spoiling the outcome of the men’s 4×100 freestyle relay well ahead of its prime-time tape-delayed airing.

Sports Illustrated’s Facebook page heard the fallout after posting a photo of France’s 4×100 freestyle relay win over the U.S., who settled for silver on the podium. Many fans expressed—rather vehemently and colorfully—their displeasure over the magazine’s page essentially ruining the much-anticipated event that had yet to be broadcast.

The not-so-subtle update read: “SPOILER: Payback for France, as they outlast the U.S. in the 4×100 freestyle relay.” A photo of the victorious French team celebrating was shown below.

After more than 80 comments from fans, the second spoiler alert posted was more cryptic—much to fans’ approval. It read: “*SPOILER ALERT* Did Aurora, Colorado swimmer Missy Franklin medal in today’s 100-meter backstroke?”

Even the photo of Franklin posted along with it didn’t tell the whole story. For that, one would have to click on the accompanying link. That approach seemed to placate fans that the social extension of the weekly sports magazine was taking their concerns to heart.

Call it the pitfalls of the “new” modern Olympic Games. The proliferation of social media—not to mention smartphones and their portability—has viewers more plugged in than ever before.

And while watching streaming programming online or on handheld devices may be growing, who doesn’t want to cheer on the world’s best athletes in HD? There’s just no contest between an iPad vs. a 55” LED or plasma for Olympic competition.

The availability of online viewing is one of the mainstay reasons NBC is using to defend itself against its many critics who’ve taken to Twitter and denote themselves with the hashtag #nbcfail.

Fundamentally, it’s the time difference that makes the live social media updates with appropriately worded spoiler alerts vs. tape-delayed programming more treacherous territory to navigate.

Maybe, just maybe, in two years for the 2014 Winter Olympics or four years when the Summer Games roll around again, we’ll have mastered a greater reliance on or even developed a preference for streaming video, and tape delay or not, we’ll know the results even before they hit the Twitter feed.

After all, these Olympic Games have reinforced that timing is everything.