It used to be so simple. Want to watch the Olympics? Got a TV? Know where to find NBC? Or ABC and CBS?
Flip on the tube, kick back on the couch and let the networks decide what you see or don't see. You didn't have a choice.
Now comes Beijing 2008 -- and the choices are dizzying. NBC, having paid $894 million for the rights to these Olympics -- part of a $2.3-billion package that included the 2004 and 2006 Games -- is determined to get its money's worth via its own expanding media universe.
The result is a multilevel combination of networks, websites and mobile devices that has to be overwhelming even to the obsessed. Reading a family tree can be easier than figuring out what Olympic events are on.
NBC Universal, the formal name of the media behemoth covering the Games, will have an unprecedented 3,600 hours of Olympic coverage.
Broken down, that's 1,400 hours spread over NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, USA, Oxygen, Telemundo and Universal HD, along with 2,200 hours of online coverage with streaming video on NBCOlym pics.com.
There will be 2,900 hours of live coverage, about 2,600 for the West Coast.
For the basketball and soccer junkies, there will be specialty channels for the men's and women's competition running 24 hours a day and including coverage of all 76 basketball games and 58 soccer games.
There will also be two foreign-language channels broadcasting in Mandarin and Korean.
Wait, there's more. NBC's mobile website delivers results, schedules, medal counts, news and a slide show.
The 3,600 hours of coverage is more than all previous Summer Olympics combined (2,562 hours). The first televised Olympics, the 1960 Games in Rome on CBS, broadcast for 20 hours.
NBC will employ 96 announcers to handle this massive workload, including a crew of analysts who can boast of 43 Olympic medals of their own.
Bob Costas will share hosting duties for tonight's opening ceremonies with Matt Lauer and then work prime time. Jim Lampley will be the daytime host, with Mary Carillo handling the late-night segment.
There will be familiar names behind the mike in familiar places (Bela Karolyi for gymnastics, Doug Collins and Ann Meyers for basketball, Rowdy Gaines for swimming, Rulon Gardner for wrestling, Brandi Chastain for soccer and Dwight Stones for track and field) and some familiar names in unfamiliar places (NFL commentator Cris Collinsworth as a roaming correspondent on the streets of Beijing and Andrea Kremer off the NFL sidelines to work on swimming and diving).
Though the viewing choices may be intimidating to the casual viewer, there are certain dates that should be circled, beginning with the opening ceremony tonight (7:30 PDT).
Also worth considering:
Sunday: Basketball -- The U.S. men play host China, led by Yao Ming.
Aug. 16: Swimming -- If Michael Phelps does as well as expected, this could be the day he breaks Mark Spitz's record by winning an eighth gold medal in a single Olympics.
Also, Track and Field -- The men's 100-meter final to crown the World's Fastest Man.
Aug. 19: Gymnastics -- The final night of the women's individual-event competition.
Aug. 21 and 23: Soccer -- The women's gold-medal game, followed two days later by the men.
Aug. 23 and Aug. 24: Basketball -- The gold-medal games, women first.
"We're awed by the enormity of what's going to be done here," said Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports.
"America," said executive producer David Neal of tonight's opening ceremonies, "will be left speechless."
The big question, beyond the hype, is whether NBC's announcers will be left speechless when it comes to dealing with the tension and controversy just below the surface in Beijing, from human-rights issues to any media restrictions imposed by the Chinese government to China's role in supporting the Sudanese government, which has been accused of slaughtering civilians in Darfur.