Every two years the world is graced with a show of some of the greatest athletic talent in the world, and every two years the same complaint is repeated: How dare the network air tape-delayed coverage? NBC has again dropped the ball during the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

Granted, there is a financial rationale behind airing delayed coverage. NBC shelled out $820 million in order to earn exclusive rights to covering the 2010 Olympics; it has every right to package the games into a tight, primetime, montage-like sequence in order to maximize their audience. The problem is that audiences often know the winners of events before they even turn on the television.

Winners’ names frequently appear in headlines and in pictures on the NBC Olympics homepage, a location that is difficult to avoid for unsuspecting viewers in search of TV listings online. Removing the results from the headlines and hiding them in the text of the articles published before events air is an ideal but unrealistic request.

At the very least, however, NBC ought not put the results in its homepage headlines before its tape-delayed broadcasts. Imagine waiting all day to see Lindsey Vonn compete in the women’s downhill, only to inadvertently discover that she’d won several hours before her event is broadcast.

One would think that NBC would lose viewers who are frustrated by the lack of coordination between print and televised coverage. The numbers, however, seem to indicate that NBC has had no trouble pulling in a healthy number of viewers. In fact, The 2010 games have thus far garnered the most average viewers for non-U.S. Winter Olympics since the 1994 Lillehammer games.

That pattern is less surprising, however, when one considers that many Olympic viewers work or go to school, and the pre-packaged primetime slot each night is the only chance for them to see the games. In this respect, NBC has done an admirable job of offering a nightly sample of the sports that people want to see.

But NBC could step up its game by expanding its live-streaming coverage. Currently, only ice hockey and curling events can be watched online in their entirety. Broadening online streaming would satisfy both the hardcore Olympic fans – all the ski jumping fanatics could see every player from every country jump if they wished – and those viewers who want to watch big events live at two in the afternoon.

At the end of the day, many Americans don’t watch the Olympics just for the results. We watch for something with the same kind of power as the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. vs. USSR ice hockey game or emotional pull as the 1994 redemption of fallen speed skater Dan Jansen. Maybe we watch for the great sports moments and for the stories. Maybe we watch because, for a few weeks in February every four years, the world watches with us. Why not air those moments both live and in primetime? Why not let the whole world watch at the same moment?

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