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I’ve been watching the online reaction to NBC’s decision to show much of the Olympics on tape delay, so they can maximize the number of viewers during prime time, and I’ve found it to be quite instructive.

I’m seeing two very conflicting realities. On one hand, the very large number of Americans who seem quite upset with NBC. On the other, NBC getting exactly what they wanted, large audience share during prime time.

How can that be? I thought not having the shared experience of the live event on twitter diminished the enjoyment to a point that it wasn’t worth watching, that the future of events is the social media experience as well?

Turns out, as much as the world has changed, we haven’t.

Now, bear with me for a moment, because I’ve recently been reading the Freakonomics books, and one of the salient points made in the second book was just how difficult it is to change human behavior. This is a perfect example. As much as we bitch and moan about the tape delay, as much as we snark about NBC being behind the times, we still do what we’ve always done when it’s Olympics time, we sit down at night and watch. At least a large enough number of us do to give NBC no reason to actually change anything.

In actuality, I will posit that the Twitter experience is actually pushing more people to watch, despite knowing the results. Twitter, and other social networks, are still part of the shared experience, except what is happening now is that Americans are seeing part of the shared experience of the online chatter, and then are more likely to want to catch the part of the experience they missed earlier.

Let’s try a thought experiment. Let’s say you’re a big baseball fan, and you’ve been out at night not watching their game. During the evening you find out that your team threw a perfect game that night, and you missed it. You have seen the tweets and the fan forum posts talking about how great it was, and the details. Then you discover that the cable channel is replaying it the next afternoon. Do you set your DVR so you can watch it?

I’m betting most of us would. It’s historic, and we have a chance to see history, even if it is not live and we know it’s going to happen. The Olympics are historic in the same way. We may know all about what’s happened, but we aren’t part of the shared experience if we never actually see it. So we complain, but we watch, and NBC makes a fortune, while the net talks about how much it failed.

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