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NBC has these Games covered -- eventually

Melvin Avanzado, a 47-year-old Los Angeles attorney, understands why NBC is showing tape-delayed Olympics coverage to viewers in the Pacific and Mountain time zones.

He understands about sponsorship dollars and maximizing viewership.

He doesn’t like it much, either. But Avanzado doesn’t try to avoid results until he can watch warmed-over coverage that often doesn’t end until midnight.

“I’d have to totally unplug,” he said. “Some people try. I was at dinner with a friend Saturday night when Apolo Ohno was racing. She hadn’t checked her Twitter. She didn’t want to know who won. Personally, I think what NBC is doing is a big disservice to sports fans. We’re used to having our events live.”

But here’s the thing: As unhappy as Avanzado is, he’s watching. A lot of us are.

In fact, it’s the West where the ratings are highest, according to Nielsen Media Research. The Mountain and Pacific time zones were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in viewership, respectively.

Hearing the news hasn’t preempted the viewing.

And the news is everywhere. On Sunday, word that Bode Miller won a gold medal in the Alpine skiing super combined raced across hundreds of media networks -- not only CNN and ESPN, but also Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Google News, MySpace and Digg -- long before the race was shown on the air.

Anticipation is a wonderful thing, and the U.S. team’s strong performance seems to be helping NBC. Overall, ratings are up 28% from coverage of the Turin Games in 2006. So far, these are the most-watched Games not held on U.S. soil since 1994, when the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan story line dominated the Games in Lillehammer, Norway.

And, hey, we got the U.S.-Canada hockey game live Sunday. It was on MSNBC instead of NBC. And that was because NBC wanted to show ice dancing and skiing in the prime-time package.

Peter Blackshaw, director of digital strategic services for Nielsen, says it is almost impossible to avoid getting results ahead of tape-delayed telecasts.

“Half of Twitterers see themselves as self-proclaimed commentators,” Blackshaw said. “Twitter is all about the whole word-of-mouth movement, being the first to know. It’s extraordinarily difficult to suppress news now when everybody wants to share news before everybody else.”

According to Nielsen numbers, almost 13% of opening-ceremony viewers also were on the Web. Nielsen also found that the most popular website for Olympic multi-tasking was Facebook. There is even a Facebook page devoted to fans against tape delay. It’s called 10,000,000 Against NBC’s Olympic Coverage.

And of the top 25 markets in terms of viewership, seven are in the West, including Denver (No. 2), Salt Lake City (No. 3) and Seattle (No. 4). The Games aren’t playing as well in L.A., which ranked No. 48.

The Games have been averaging 26.3 million viewers a night and even beat the gold franchise, Fox’s “American Idol,” on Wednesday. It was the first time in six years that “American Idol” had been beaten.

Martha Broughen, a 55-year-old school nurse and teacher from San Juan Capistrano, said she doesn’t mind the taped coverage.

Rather than having a live broadcast during the workday, she wishes the prime-time portion ended earlier.

“I work and I like to watch when I get home,” she said. “I find myself falling asleep before the big thing each night. Maybe they should at least start the delayed stuff at 6.”

Claire Schmidt, a Tustin mother of two teenage boys, said she watched Evan Lysacek’s tape-delayed gold-medal skate by using her own tape-delay method.

“I fell asleep before Evan’s long program,” she said. “But I was recording it, so I saw it the next night.”

NBC is not allowing live Web streaming of events except hockey and curling. The network’s usual answer is that ratings and research tell it that the majority of viewers would rather the program be in prime time.

Ann Beebe, a radio producer from Encino, also said she is not happy with the delayed broadcast. Yet, as she talked about how eager she was to see Lindsey Vonn’s gold-medal-winning downhill performance and Shaun White’s snowboarding triumphs, anticipation that built during the day, she realized something:

“I’m NBC’s dream consumer,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love watching stuff live during the day.”

Alan Wurtzel, president of research for NBC Universal, said that while his network isn’t offering much live coverage for a large chunk of the country, the network doesn’t mind word about events to be televised later spreading in other ways.

“We’ve found in the first three days, people who consume information on our [NBC Olympic] website, they were 31% more likely to watch on television,” Wurtzel said. “We’re working on some data that seems to show that if you read blogs, go on Twitter, use social media, you wind up watching more television.”

Blackshaw said viewers are using social media as “a real-time news feed,” and anecdotal evidence suggests that Olympic fans are bonding on these social networks.

“It’s kind of the notion of a community wraparound,” he said. “There’s a whole other secondary level of entertainment in gauging reactions to the events in real time.”

In other words, fans are gathering online to talk trash, dissect costumes and discuss whether Lysacek deserved to beat Evgeni Plushenko. And in the West, we’re just bonding later than everyone else.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin


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