Because the time difference from Beijing to the United States wouldn't allow NBC to air live coverage of events from China, swimming and gymnastics finals were moved to the morning in Beijing. The network paid $894 million to broadcast these Olympics and didn't want a redo of 2000, when every major event in Sydney was shown on tape delay (it's no coincidence that the ratings for those Games were the lowest in history).
But after enduring months of tough negotiations with the IOC to get the events moved, NBC is doing exactly what they tried to avoid: showing events on tape. Tonight's swimming finals with Michael Phelps, Dara Torres and Katie Hoff were not shown live in the Mountain or Pacific time zones, nor will they be shown for the entirety of the competition. NBC will instead run the east coast feed three hours later; at 8:00 p.m. PT. So, at the moment (midnight on the east coast), viewers on the other side of the country still haven't seen Phelps shatter his own world record in the 400-meter individual medley.
This is a baffling decision by NBC. It's hard to recall any other occasion when a sporting event has been shown live in one half of the country, but not the other. It's unheard of. Sure, some sporting events start at weird times on the west coast, but that's the norm and people adapt. Like earthquakes, wildfires and actors-turned-governors, it's just how things are. That's why bars have breakfast buffets and bloody mary specials during football season for 10:00 a.m. kickoffs. If live mid-day weekend telecasts are good enough for the NFL and college football, why not the Olympics?
If the network plans on continuing the delay of the west coast feed, they're subjecting themselves to viewer backlash, poor ratings and upset advertisers. Essentially, NBC strong-armed the IOC into changing around a bulk of the Olympic schedule in order to broadcast live events in two time zones. Great business decision, guys. Why not just push Jay Leno out the door too while you're at it. (Oh, wait.)
Picture via NBC