However, the reality is a huge portion of the network's audience for its primetime coverage apparently doesn't care that the events aren't live. And they form the critical mass for the ratings that have NBC executives ecstatic in London.
That's 10 percent ahead of Beijing in 2008, which had live coverage in primetime. With everything on tape delay, NBC executives thought the ratings would be down by as much as 20 percent for London.
Tuesday's telecast, featuring tape delay of the U.S. women's gymnastics team winning gold and several races with Michael Phelps, garnering a 21.8 rating; 1 national ratings point is worth more than 1 million homes.
To put it in perspective, Game 5 of the NBA Finals, in which LeBron James, the biggest star in the mainstream sport of basketball, finally won a title, did a 12.6 rating on ABC.
Clearly, the Olympics have a much broader reach, accounting for NBC generating NFL-like numbers for 17 straight nights during the Olympics.
According to NBC research president Alan Wurtzel, an average of 17.5 million women tune in per night, almost half of the overall audience. That's nearly triple the number of women who watch NBC's Sunday Night Football games.
Indeed, the Olympics aren't consumed like a normal sports event on TV. NBC research shows that the non-traditional viewer watches for the various stories to unfold much like a reality series. And since those viewers aren't likely to keep up with the latest sports results during the day, they probably don't know the results anyway.
"Yes, it's about sports, but it is so much more than sports," Wurtzel said. "For 17 days, people who never engage in sports are being mesmerized by it."
Wurtzel said there also has been a large bump in ratings for the age 6-17 category. He attributes the increase to social media.
"These kids grew up as digital babies," Wurtzel said. "By putting the games on all these digital platforms, and have it be combined with social media, which the kids do every day, it has made the Olympics an incredibly relevant event. To be honest, that wasn't the case that long ago."
The other component in the ratings surge, Wurtzel said, is the live streaming that is available on NBCOlympics.com. For all the complaints about NBC's primetime strategy, the networks counters the events are available in real time on various digital platforms.
Traffic has been significant as expected, and Wurtzel said it has contributed to the increase in the primetime numbers.
"We know the people who are watching the streaming are more likely to watch in primetime," Wurtzel said. "Some of them want to see the movie again. In an interesting way, streaming has served as a barker. They watch and tell their friends, 'I can't believe what I just saw.' Basically, it's 1 + 1 = 3."
NBC hears the noise on Twitter and elsewhere. But it points to the high ratings as validation for its decision to air the marquee events exclusively in primetime.
"I think what we've proven is that the American viewing public likes the way we tell the story," NBC Sports chair Mark Lazarus told Street & Smith's Business Daily. "I inherently trust that decision is the right one."