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NBC to use multiplatforms to broadcast huge number of Olympic hours

The network will televise, along with affiliates, more than 1,500 hours over 18 days from Russia, an incredible jump since Squaw Valley in 1960, the first TV Olympics.

February 05, 2014|By David Whitley
  • Moguls skier Laura Grasemann of Germany makes a practice run on the Extreme Park course at Rosa Khutor Mountain on Wednesday.
Moguls skier Laura Grasemann of Germany makes a practice run on the Extreme… (Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images )

Long before anyone heard of Dorothy Hamill, Shaun White, Bob Costas, Steve Jobs, live streaming or the Borg, there was Uncle Walter.

He stood with his back to the camera as a blizzard set in. Then he whirled around and started a revolution.

"From Squaw Valley, California, February 1960, the eighth Winter Games," he said. "This is Walter Cronkite reporting."

America was turned on. At least it was for the 13 black-and-white hours CBS broadcast during the first TV Olympics.

Thirteen hours? In Sochi, NBC will probably broadcast 13 high-definition hours of Lolo Jones stretching before her bobsled run.

The grand total is 1,539 hours over 18 days. That's 85½ hours per day if you're watching at home with a time-altering device.

How is NBC doing it?

Platforms, dear viewer.

In case you still watch a black-and-white TV, that's the term for delivery systems like networks, newspapers and websites. In Sochi's case, the hours will be split between NBC (185), MSNBC (45), NBCSN (230), USA Network (43), CNBC (36) and (1,000 online).

So why do we need an average of 6.6 hours for every member of the U.S. team?

Because you'll watch.

Most Americans would rather watch surgery than a biathlon, but wrap the sport in an Olympic flag and something comes over us.

Girls rush to get Hamill hairdos. Bela Karolyi turns into Vince Lombardi. Jim McKay becomes Cronkite.

NBC's nightly audience for the 2012 Vancouver Games doubled that of the nearest competitor. Since TV shows don't get close to the ratings they used to, the Olympics have become even more valuable.

NBC paid $4.38 billion in 2011 for every Olympics through the 2020 Tokyo Games. Sochi went for $775 million, which was $774,950,000 more than CBS paid for Squaw Valley. Part of the business calculation is the explosion of digital media and devices like cellphones and tablets.

"We're in a media world that seems to change every two weeks," said Jim Bell, NBC executive producer.

The Olympics are a handy way to track technological advances. Al Gore invented the Internet shortly after Seoul in 1988, according to MSNBC. Michael Jordan probably had the only cellphone in Barcelona in 1992.

Nagano in 1998 was the first Olympics with a functional website. Live streaming came along in Beijing in 2008, when NBC showed 3,600 hours.

That was more than the combined total of every Summer Olympics since the first one in Athens in 1896. London in 2012 (5,535 hours) was the first Olympics in which every event was available on TV or online.

We're certainly not in Lake Placid anymore. ABC taped the Miracle on Ice for prime time, and you wouldn't have known who won unless you called your bookie. Now you can't escape NBC's tweets on Bode Miller.

Basically, NBC's plan is to become the real-life embodiment of the Borg. They were the Robocop-looking organisms that droned around like mind-sucking killer space bees in "Star Trek: The Next Generation." They'd assimilate every species they encountered into a hive-like core of consciousness.

"We are the Borg," they'd announce. "Resistance is futile."

NBC wants to assimilate you into the Sochi collective. And that's certainly fine by your host, Vladimir Putin.

Russia's president has demonstrated a Borg-like determination to showcase Sochi as the new Russia. The only difference is the Borg didn't go $40 billion over budget.

Accusations of corruption are one of the pesky issues that have dogged the run-up to Sochi. Not to mention the terror threat. And Russia's crackdown on gay rights has made the Olympics a rallying cry for the LGBT movement.

None of that exactly fits into the feel-good drama NBC would prefer. The network insists it will not gloss over any real-world news.

"We will cover any social or political issues that are relevant to the Games from a sports perspective," said Mark Lazarus, NBC Sports Group chairman. "NBC News will be there in full force with all of its journalists and all of its shows to cover the news."

London turned into a viewer bash-fest when NBC embargoed some prime events (they were usually live streamed) until 8 p.m. The hashtag #nbcfail became a Twitter sensation.

Even for $775 million, NBC can't buy the right to start the men's hockey final at 5 a.m. so it can be shown in prime time to the East Coast. In hopes of keeping #nbcfail retired, the network will show that game live (set your alarm for 4 a.m. PST, Feb. 23). Some events will be packaged for prime time, but the opening ceremony is the only one that won't be live streamed.

"What we found in London was that the people who were live streaming Olympic content during the day on a PC or laptop or a tablet were actually more likely to watch more Olympic television than people who weren't live streaming," Bell said.

So how do you get the online content?

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