Earlier this summer I took a great DMin class called The Gospel and Global Media Cultures. One of my favorite books from the course was Elizabeth Drescher’s Tweet If You ❤ Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation. What I especially appreciate is Drescher’s analysis of social media from a cultural perspective. She notes that we are in the midst of a major cultural shift, not just a change in communication technologies and media. When it comes to communication culture, we are moving away from a consumerist broadcast culture to a participatory digital culture.

In light of this, I found the #nbcfail meme rather fascinating. (Here’s a story from today.) Throughout the Olympics, people on Twitter and other social networks complained incessantly about NBC delaying the broadcast of the games until prime time in the evening. Evidently, people wanted to watch the Olympics live throughout the day, especially since the delay necessitated avoiding result spoilers.

The thing is, I’m pretty sure that all of the games were streamed live online. So, presumably, those savvy enough to tweet should have been able to find live coverage of every event of the Olympics. And, despite these complaints, NBC broke all kinds of audience records for their delayed coverage during prime time.

I wonder if this indicates that we’re not as far into digital culture as we thought. Or, at the very least, it must indicate that broadcast television has not yet been eclipsed by online streaming.

What do you think? Should we draw any conclusions about digital culture from #nbcfail?

John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit johnvest.com.

Reader Interactions


  1. it might just be a difference in screens — not everyone has internet enabled TVs (their big screen), and didn’t want to watch on their iPad / laptop?

    • Yeah, I suppose that’s possible. But unless the American workforce was going to take a two week vacation to watch the Olympics, they’d be watching it at work anyway.

  2. maybe the same dynamic as folks who complain that the primetime church isn’t flexible or missional enough, have a means to be more flexible and missional at the local level laid out for them, and they continue to complain about primetime?


  3. “So, presumably, those savvy enough to tweet should have been able to find live coverage of every event of the Olympics.” Right. So people did watch it online and knew it was all delayed and they hated NBC for it. The rating may have been sky high, but they also lost a generation.

    • But why hate ob NBC if they’re getting it anyway? Because it’s cool to jump on a hate meme? No one seemed to care for Bob Costas, so I’d figure people would be happy to watch without him.

  4. It has less to do with how people use the digital medium and more to do with the advertisers. Here are two good articles on the subject:



    As the Atlantic article points out, the challenge is that NBC is a new world of digital media but operating with an old-school business model, and unwilling to risk experimentation. I was annoyed when the swimming finals, which took place on a Saturday afternoon, weren’t shown live. They were online, but then you couldn’t replay them until after they showed on Saturday night – a nod to the demand of advertisers. I work in advertising, so I can understand the issue, but I wonder if the prime time audience (or the total audience for that matter), might be just as large or larger if the events were shown live and then repeated in the evening. After all, as you point out, most people are at work anyway during the day, so who’s going to watch them anyway?

    By the way, don’t overlook the fact that to get the video online (live or delayed), you have to verify an account with a cable or satellite provider. It’s not open to everyone.

    • This is the same problem with many churches (including Fourth): we’re operating in a new world with an old paradigm. Pretty much all of our communications strategies are still using a broadcast model.

  5. The people of the US are not ready for a live Olympics other than maybe swimming or gymno. They have become used to seeing the contenders and not everyone that competes. Most don’t want to see 6 rounds of 16 divers, 2 hours of a marathon swim, or 4 heats of single scull rowing. They want to see the Prime Time show live. That is not going to happen. I would imagine with the viewing records that some of the digital culture generation did watch. There were plenty of live event shown during the daytime show, NBCSN, and online.

  6. Perhaps it’s more like modernity/post-modernity/post-post-modernity, it’s simply a continuum. Multivalent? People will use whatever suits them. In that sense it’s less and less driven by advertisers and more by the consumers. I have watched television at my schedule through my dvr for years….Skipping over commercials etc. My family watches what they want online. When Comedy Central was taken off the air recently on Direct TV we went to the net. Consumers will not be denied. My point? There is absolutely no one or two or three ways communication is going to take place. We’re going to need to learn many ways….and find those that not only work, but are consistent with our message, or at least not counter to our message!

  7. I love Craig’s post. Multiple channels is what it takes in today’s digital world. It’s no different than church’s offering a radio or TV broadcast back in the 70’s or 80’s. The future star preachers are likely to be ones who pack them in the pews, but also have a high number following them on twitter or Facebook.

    As for the Olympics specifically, Paul’s comment is also interesting. Do people really want to watch the dedium? Then again, there are ways to do that by cutting back and forth with other sports. As for what people were watching, I ran across this article today. Record viewership at all times of day.


    Perhaps NBC needs to better sell their other dayparts.

    • The Drescher book I mentioned suggests that Mainline Protestants basically failed when it came to radio and television (compared to Evangelicals), but that we have within our tradition the resources and opportunity to excel in digital culture.

  8. Actually, from what I heard from complaints on Facebook from friends who tried to watch it online, you apparently had to have a subscription to Comcast (or whatever cable company) in order to watch them online. So…while I agree with you, unlike in past years, online streaming was not free or accessible to most people, so that’s probably why there was such an outcry.

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