NBC has finally given up the fight against social media spoilers.
The network's coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics will air live in all time zones — a first for an operation notorious for tape-delayed airings of the more popular events.
“Nothing brings America together for two weeks like the Olympics, and that communal experience will now be shared across the country at the same time both on television and streaming online,” Jim Bell, president of NBC's Olympics production and programming, said in a release. “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. This is exciting news for the audience, the advertisers, and our affiliates alike.”
The 2018 Games will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which will be 14 hours ahead of Eastern Time. That will make for some tricky scheduling, as events starting at 8 p.m. locally — like the opening ceremony — will be happening at 6 a.m. ET.
But NBC has long carried enough weight with the International Olympic Committee that it can influence start times during the Games. The swimming schedule for last summer's Rio Olympics, for instance, was shaped to fit into NBC's prime-time window and departed from the normal routine swimmers are used to during major international competitions.
The corollary to that in Pyeongchang is figure skating, the crown jewel of NBC's Winter Olympics coverage every four years. An early proposed competition schedule released last fall had all of the figure skating events starting at 10 a.m. local time — or 8 p.m. ET the night before, perfect for NBC's marquee coverage window.
While the time difference will still keep everyone guessing, airing everything live should prevent anger among fans that results are spoiled before they can watch them on television. Though that wasn't generally an issue for Rio, with most swimming and track finals aired live thanks to the city being only one hour off Eastern time, NBC continued to tape delay its coverage in the Pacific time zone in an effort to maximize viewership.
Not that tape-delayed coverage will disappear entirely in 2018. Some events, like skiing, are more conducive to being edited down than aired start-to-finish. But with multiple networks at its disposal, NBC should be able to give fans the choice whether they want to watch it live or wait for the more polished version of the biggest stories in prime time.