One time, I was covering a tech event that unveiled a brand-new, hotly anticipated smartphone. I was there alone doing a live blog, typing my fingers off in the darkened auditorium with all my gear around me — my trusty laptop, a digital camera, not one but three smartphones (to make triple sure I could direct-text communication with the head office), plus a mobile hotspot. That last device proved to be a huge life saver.
When the Wi-Fi in the room went down — I can only presume because of the incredible load placed on it from the press people in attendance — I immediately thought I was toast. How am I supposed to do a live blog with no Internet connection? Via carrier pigeon? Then I remembered the hotspot sitting in my pocket and fired it up. That wound up saving me and my coverage. Sure, the journos also hammered the cellular networks, but because smartphones and hotspots weren’t quite as ubiquitous as they are now, we weren’t competing with quite as many everyday users in the area.
That experience jumped to mind when I read about this next one: On Sunday, Olympic announcers had an embarrassing favor to ask London attendees. They urged people not to text and tweet so much during the live events, as the network pipes were getting so clogged, it was affecting television coverage. For example, during the men’s cycling road race on Saturday, commentators didn’t know how far frontrunners were ahead because the data from the GPS devices with the cyclists couldn’t reach them.
That’s not the only Olympics-related consumer tech fail. Apparently a pretty huge swath of American viewers are disgruntled with NBC’s coverage because of its delayed-viewing tactics. Why? Because spoilers are all over the place, thanks to social networks.
The exclusive broadcaster of the summer games in the U.S., NBC isn’t doing anything unusual by taping the most anticipated events for a primetime coverage slot. The problem is, this ain’t 1964 (when the network first covered the summer Olympics). With so many other ways we connect these days, the webs are alight with unintended spoilers running amuck. On Sunday afternoon, a collective groan went out across the webs when people found out about Michael Phelps and the men’s 400-meter freestyle team losing to the French. The news was heartbreaking enough to them, but what made it worse was the lack of any American broadcast coverage until that night. And as I write this today, Monday July 30, I look up at my television where CNN is playing, and on the screen is the following: “Spoiler Alert: Olympic Results In.” Seems news outlets can’t even cover the games without warnings and disclaimers, thanks to the time differential.
You’d think that, particularly given NBC’s social media efforts, someone inside the company would’ve foreseen this. As it is, the gaffe is so big, it has even inspired its own unofficial hashtag: #NBCfail. Then again, NBC doesn’t really seem to care. They’re pulling in huge numbers — yesterday’s broadcast was up 2 percent compared to Beijing, making it the best non-U.S. Olympics first Sunday in history.