Kevin Drum Smackdown Watch: I Was Wrong About the Olympics

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Given my earlier whining about the whiners who don’t like NBC’s tape-delayed coverage of the Olympics, Matt Bruenig tweets that I should be interested in a new Gallup poll on this subject. And I am! But maybe not for the reason he thinks. Here are the results:

First of all: why do people who aren’t watching the Olympics at all even give a damn? And second: why wouldn’t you want everything broadcast both live and on tape delay? Granted these aren’t big numbers, but why do about a quarter of Americans actively prefer that they be broadcast only one way or the other?

Beats me. However, there’s more to this, which should interest anyone eager to see me proven wrong about something. I chastised NBC’s critics for being a bunch of overeducated elitists who can afford to watch TV during the day. “Try an 8-to-5 factory job that gets you home at 6 and done with dinner by 7,” I said. “Then tell me if you still think it’s ridiculous that the Olympics are tape delayed.”

Well, Gallup did just that. And it turns out that among college grads, only 9% want events televised live. Among high school grads, 22% want live coverage. You see the same split among high and low-income viewers. Needless to say, it’s possible that this is an artifact of high unemployment (and underemployment) among high school grads during the recession. It’s also possible that college grads are just smarter, and realized there was no downside to wanting both. Either way, though, my theory is in tatters. I hereby apologize to all my fellow overprivileged couch potatoes.

UPDATE: Hold on a second. NBC Olympics honcho Dick Ebersol says I’m not so wrong after all:

As for the tape-delay controversy, Ebersol offers another example: In Beijing, in one of the more remarkable negotiations in sports television, he convinced the IOC to schedule the swimming finals for the morning. This was a Herculean achievement, and with the time difference it put live swimming on smack in the middle of prime time in the U.S. And, of course, this wasn’t just any swimming competition, this was Michael Phelps going for eight gold medals, and it included one of the closest finishes in Olympic history and one of the greatest relay comebacks.

These London Olympics — with the swimming all on tape delay — beat the ratings for Beijing on every single one of the first seven days.

“It amazes me that we are still talking about this,” Ebersol says. “If someone wants to watch the Olympics live, they can do that online. That’s a very small percentage of people. We’ve done study after study where we ask people when they want to watch the Olympics. They say ‘after dinner.’ Every study, I’ve never seen it less than 80 percent, and it’s usually a lot higher than that.

So there you have it.

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We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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