A shrinking majority of us remember the phrase “Live or Memorex?” from an audio tape commercial where when used, the sound from these tapes was touted as being as good as live…(here’s one of the more famous of those commercials). More and more, given all of the instant sources of information we have access to, we are facing the same decision that we did back in the 70’s with our audio tape: do you look for ‘live results’ or wait for ‘the tape’? This decision really has come to a point with the London Olympics. The six hour difference is not enough so that time-delay is a necessity for the majority of the American population to see the event (as it was with the Sydney Olympics). Many of us are functioning during that six hour window and thus, we could change our schedule to watch an event if it was shown live. So, back to our question – do you look for ‘live results’ or wait for ‘the tape’?
To some extent, the decision of whether to know immediately or to wait for the tape is rapidly being taken out of our hands because of the saturation of news in our society. From the time I started writing this piece, until right now, my phone has already chimed three times with Olympic results (all via Twitter). I can choose not to look at my phone, but then I run the risk of missing messages from other people (including my spouse). So, I look and remove any drama from my later watching experience. A relative of mine shared that a few days ago, he was really interested in seeing the women’s gymnastics team final. However, he went on the internet to find a particular baseball score, and bang, there’s the gymnastics result already. I have similar stories from acquaintances that use Facebook extensively, not to mention the running tickers at the bottom of many sports channels. (Don’t you know that ESPN loves preempting NBC’s coverage – especially since ESPN can’t use NBC’s video in their reports?). In reality, it is becoming more and more difficult to ‘hide’ from the real-time results that are streaming in from London.
Will this ‘instant access’ to results change how the Olympics are broadcast in the future? NBC has been reporting record viewer levels, so I’m not sure that they have much inducement to change their approach to broadcasting the Olympics. However, as the ability to access live results – and even video feeds from the Olympics – becomes more prevalent, I think the broadcast partners are going to have to rethink their strategies. Seriously, will it be important enough to you to wait five hours to see the 100 meters men’s race when you can get the results instantly, as well as step-by-step analysis and even live-streaming-video as the event unfolds? These types of services, while in their infancy, are already available and will become even a bigger part of the Olympics-landscape in the future (in fact, there are several ways that you can watch BBC’s live coverage of the Olympics right now).
In the end, it might not really be a choice between “live or tape”. Already, we have access to technologies that let us listen and watch live, in spite of the efforts of a TV network to shift the juiciest content to prime time. And with the access we already have, the choice then really shifts to the TV partners: do they continue business as usual and eventually lose or do they figure out a way to give us real-time access before we all look for other sources of that same access? It will be interesting to watch.