NBC’s plans for the Olympics in Rio over the next two weeks define the term “exhaustive.”
The network, its cable sisters and Olympics website plan 6,755 hours of coverage through the Aug. 21 closing ceremonies in Rio de Janeiro. Obsessive fans have plenty of viewing options, since every Olympic competition will be available live online along with the popular events airing in prime time on NBC.
That includes Friday’s opening ceremony, which is oddly being aired via tape delay despite Rio being only one hour ahead of Eastern time in the U.S.
Bob Costas is the prime-time host for his 11th Olympics, and his continuity defines NBC’s coverage. While there are new wrinkles every year – Ryan Seacrest hosts a new late-night show, Mike Tirico joins from ESPN – the NBC playbook and personnel remain very consistent. NBC’s 170-member broadcast team includes a stable of former athletes, including swimmer Rowdy Gaines, gymnast Tim Daggett and diver Laura Wilkinson, that has combined for 59 Olympic medals.
NBC executives strongly believe in how they cover the Olympics, particularly the menu of sports offered on the network each night, and consider the events’ ratings strength is a public endorsement. The company paid $1.2 billion for the broadcast rights.
The opening ceremony will be delayed an hour before being shown on NBC because the network wants the entertainment spectacle, which was seen by 40.7 million people in 2012, to be shown completely in U.S. prime time. NBC was also reportedly upset that because the Portugese language is being used for the parade of nations, the U.S. team (or Estados Unidos) will file into the stadium relatively early.
In what is becoming an Olympics tradition, the run-up to the games was filled with foreboding stories: the Zika virus, polluted water, security concerns. HBO’s “Real Sports” aired a thorough investigation last month into the International Olympic Committee and demands placed on host countries, but don’t expect something similar on NBC.
The network plans to address many of the issues unique to Rio early, perhaps in a one-hour preview scheduled for Thursday night, but will turn to the competition unless something unusual happens.
“I think when people are tuning in to watch the Olympics, they'll want to watch the Olympics,” said Jim Bell, executive producer of NBC’s Olympics coverage.
Unlike previous Summer Games in Europe, Asia and Australia, the Rio games provide NBC a favorable time zone allowing it to televise many events live in swimming and track and field. With only a few exceptions, those sports – along with gymnastics and volleyball – get virtually all of the attention on NBC’s prime-time broadcast.
The rest of the sports are spread across 10 other networks, many with particular specialties.
The Golf Channel, for example, concentrates on the Olympic return of its namesake sport. NBC executives expressed disappointment that several of the world’s top golfers, including Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, are staying away from the event because of concerns about the Zika virus, and suggested they’d someday regret it.
Bravo will be the Olympic home of tennis. NBC is also setting up speciality channels for both basketball and soccer, although those sports will also be shown on other networks.
The NBC Sports cable network will be the busiest, airing 330 hours of Olympics programming covering 20 sports. On most days of the games, NBCSN will air Olympics coverage from 8 a.m. to midnight. Other coverage will be spread around CNBC, MSNBC and USA. Telemundo and NBC Universo will narrate events in Spanish, focusing on sports and athletes popular in Latin America.
NBC, which likes to use the Olympics as a laboratory for new technology and ideas, will also distribute 83 hours of coverage in the 4K Ultra HD format.
Once again, the NBC Olympics website offers live streams of every competition. To access this material, a customer must validate an account with a cable or satellite provider.
The attention speaks to the huge economic opportunity the games provide NBC in a fragmented media world. NBC is betting, and in fact has advertised the Olympics, on the idea that viewers can use a pick-me-up from a drumbeat of bad news.
“There’s been a lot of tough things going on in the world,” Bell said. “I think it will be nice, fingers crossed, if we can have a couple of weeks to give people something to cheer about.”