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In Twitterverse, Olympics fans cringe at spoilers [updated]

February 18, 2010 |  9:30 am

Vonn pic 

At least four hours before NBC’s prime-time Olympics coverage began airing Wednesday on the East Coast, NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd tweeted this report about American skier Lindsey Vonn:

USA! USA! Americans nab top TWO spots in women's downhill. Yes, Vonn won the Gold.

 Todd quickly followed that with another tweet:

Getting lots of angry tweets about #Olympics report; Apologies; Seriously. But trust me on this: WATCH TONIGHT. Some amazing runs.

Todd’s tweets underscored the dilemma facing Olympics fans. With NBC airing much of the Vancouver Olympics coverage in tape delay for prime-time audiences, can viewers – especially those plugged into social media networks like Twitter – expect to be sheltered from spoilers?

The issue is generating a vigorous debate -- on Twitter, natch. “I agree that this is all NBC's fault for keeping us beholden. But I just don't think Tweeters need to deliberately spoil results,” tweeted one viewer Wednesday.

A Toronto-based watcher put the blame on the network: “Why should NBC control what's discussed when?... In Canada, we have had live coverage for years.” David Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR, wrote on his Twitter account that “NBC decided to handle Olympics as entertainment, not news. No reason anyone else should heed.” (My colleague, James Rainey, has reached out to Chuck Todd for his take, and we'll update with his thoughts on this.)

The network has argued that it is packaging coverage of the Games for prime time because that’s when most viewers are watching – and when the most ad dollars are available. To build the suspense, NBC has slashed the amount of live streaming of the Games available on NBCOlympics.com compared to what it put up during the Beijing Olympics, offering live viewing of just hockey and curling this year. (Meanwhile, the competitions that do air live in prime time pose their own challenges. Gawker noted Wednesday that during coverage of the men’s snowboard competition, viewers could hear Shaun White’s giddy coach congratulating him with an expletive-laced atta-boy.)

But NBC’s decision to delay much of the coverage has also put the network’s own reporters in an awkward position. Anchor Brian Williams reports the day’s results on “NBC Nightly News” with a graphic, but first warns viewers who don’t want to know with a spoiler alert, according to spokeswoman Lauren Kapp.

[Updated at 12:44 p.m.: Todd, in an interview from Denver, where he's covering President Obama, told the LAT's James Rainey that he got “a few hundred” complaints about revealing Vonn’s downhill win before it aired on tape delay.

“I didn’t realize how sensitive this whole West Coast-delay thing was to viewers in the West. It didn’t take long to learn,” he said. “I got beaten up quite a bit over it.”

Todd, who covered sports news earlier in his career, said he still thinks it’s fair game to post news from Vancouver for his 21,000 Twitter followers. No one at NBC’s home office asked him to be more careful, though he said he will consider fronting further news from the winter games with “spoiler” alerts.

He’s enjoying using Twitter for an erstwhile fling as a sportswriter and has found a contingent of sportswriters who love political coverage. “So,” he said, “we are feeding each other’s addictions.”]

-- Matea Gold

Photo credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times

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