London 2012: European Viewers Head Online to Protest Networks' Olympics Coverage

Echoing U.S. viewers' complaints against NBC, tape-delayed broadcasts and poor commentary draw online ire overseas.

COLOGNE, Germany – Paltry coverage, tape-delayed broadcasts of the big events, ill-informed color commentators: NBC isn't the only Olympics broadcaster feeling the wrath of disgruntled viewers. Across Europe, sports fans are taking to Twitter and other social media to vent their collective spleens over problems, real and perceived, in their local broadcaster's coverage of London 2012.

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Many of complaints will be familiar to anyone following the Twitter hashtag #NBCFail, which has become the online repository of rants against the Peacock's coverage of the Games. Viewers in Germany, for example, have criticized local pubwebs ARD and ZDF for showing tape-delayed coverage and compact “best of” highlights in primetime at the expense of live footage. During the  German coverage of Danny Boyle's Opening Ceremony on Friday night, announcers came under fire for their wall-to-wall commentary that many felt disrupted the show.

Even the BBC has had to take its lumps after its coverage of the Olympics road race drew an online backlash from cycling fans. Viewers took to Twitter to complain there were not enough time checks or captions and that positions were unclear. For a while after the race ended, it was even unclear who had won the bronze medal. The BBC blamed the poor coverage on the pictures provided by the Olympics organizers to whom it had "raised our concerns." Colin Lynch, an Irish paracycling world champion, tweeted that cycling "usually has much better coverage and commentary" and urged newcomers, "Don't be put off."

For their part, the Olympic officials passed the buck, blaming the more than 1 million spectators watching the race, saying their use of Twitter as the athletes passed jammed the network used to provide crucial race timing and positional updates to broadcasters from the athletes’ bikes.

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Compared with the online outrage that has greeted NBC's coverage of the Games, however, the international response has remained more on the level of minor griping. This is due in part to the fact that Europe's public broadcasters have supplemented their primetime Olympic coverage with online live streams of multiple sporting events, satisfying all but the most Games-mad fan. As tax-funded broadcasters, they are required to provide as much of the Olympics to as many people as possible.

And despite the grousing, European viewers are tuning in. The BBC's three-hour live broadcast of Boyle's Opening Ceremony was the most-watched show in the U.K. this year and one of the top 20 of all time in Britain, with 22.4 million viewers tuning in. The pubcaster's daily coverage has continued to dominate the local ratings. The BBC said Monday night's swimming finals drew a peak of 8.8 million viewers, down from 10.7 million on Sunday but still impressive. 

Online, BBC Sport's website has set its own Olympics-fueled record: 7.2 million U.K. visitors sought out the site Monday, topping the 6.1 million that clicked on it Sunday, the BBC said. Its global visitor figures reached 9.7 million on Monday, also a record.

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In Germany, TV ratings for the London Olympics have been strong but not yet record-breaking: 7.66 million German viewers tuned in for the opening ceremony on Friday, a 43.5 percent share. That compares with the 7.72 million Germans who watched the opening of the Beijing Olympics four years ago and the more than 13 million that caught the start of the Athens Olympics in 2004.

Stuart Kemp in London contributed to this report.

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