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The Olympics' TV Time-Delay Is Going Away, NBC Says

For next year's Winter Olympics in South Korea, NBC will broadcast the action live to American TV audiences from the Gangneung Curling Centre and other venues.
Chung Sung-Jun
Getty Images
For next year's Winter Olympics in South Korea, NBC will broadcast the action live to American TV audiences from the Gangneung Curling Centre and other venues.

When it broadcasts the Winter Olympics from South Korea next year, NBC will do so with live programming across the U.S., bringing an end to the network's decades-old strategy of delaying coverage according to U.S. time zones.

"That means social media won't be ahead of the action in any time zone, and as a result, none of our viewers will have to wait for anything," said Jim Bell, president of NBC Olympics Production & Programming. "This is exciting news for the audience, the advertisers, and our affiliates alike."

NBC's move effectively shifts the core of a strategy it adopted for online audiences — to provide immediate access to Olympic events — to its main platform. Live coverage from Pyeongchang will air during the day, in prime time and late at night, the network says.

The time-delay approach has long been criticized by those who complained that it exposed viewers to spoilers, reduced the scope of NBC's coverage and diminished the excitement of a live global event. Those complaints grew louder during last summer's Rio Olympics, when American viewers were routinely forced into a bifurcated existence, with events playing out in one timeline on social media and in another on NBC's TV networks.

For the 2018 Winter Games, NBC's prime-time broadcast will begin at 8 p.m. ET, 7 p.m. CT, 6 p.m. MT and 5 p.m. PT — an approach that will likely mean people can watch without avoiding Facebook and Twitter feeds that might inadvertently ruin the suspense of a race or competition.

NBC's plan for South Korea does include replays — the network's prime-time coverage will be rebroadcast late at night.

For last year's Olympics, NBC put out more than 6,755 hours of programming; in addition to its TV networks, online viewers could get wide and immediate access to events through its NBC Sports apps and streaming video. But with Olympic events in Rio only one hour ahead of U.S. Eastern Time, NBC's insistence on a time delay meant most American TV audiences didn't see them until at least two hours later.

When the Olympic cauldron is lit in South Korea next February, Pyeongchang will be 14 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast. The time difference is currently 13 hours, but South Korea operates on Korean Standard Time year-round, after a dalliance with Daylight Savings Time back in 1988, when it hosted the Summer Olympics in Seoul.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.

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