As far as pure volume and scope, no undertaking in television history rivals NBC Universal’s Olympic coverage that starts Friday across 10 platforms, including six TV networks.
The numbers are staggering: 5,535 hours combined among NBC, NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, Telemundo, NBCOlympics.com, two specialty channels and the first-ever 3-D platform.
To put it in perspective, 16 years ago, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics were covered on just one channel — NBC — which aired 171 hours. By contrast, Spanish-language channel Telemundo will surpass that by two hours over the next 17 days.
The tonnage dwarfs NBC Universal’s coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics by nearly 2,000 hours.
“If you put those 5,535 hours across a linear platform, it would be 7 1/2 months of continuous coverage,” NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus said. “It’s a tremendous undertaking, to a level that’s never been done before.”
But what’s most viewer-friendly is this: For the first time, all Olympic events will be streamed live on the Internet (NBCOlympics.com). And much of the daytime coverage on NBC and the cable networks will be live. But NBC’s prime-time show will air on tape, because London is five hours ahead of U.S. East Coast time.
NBC decided that airing all the events live on the Internet, but saving most of the marquee ones to air on tape in prime time, would not diminish ratings.
“What we have found over the years is the more content we make available on the more platforms and the more accessible it is, the more interest there is in the Olympic prime time,” NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel said. “So we reached a conclusion we were going to make every event available online.”
NBC, airing its seventh consecutive Olympics, expects more than 200 million viewers over the 17 days but doesn’t anticipate turning a profit on its $1.18 billion rights fee.
What to expect• NBC: Its 272 1/2 hours will include a prime-time show from 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. (longer on weekends); a late-night program (hosted by Mary Carillo, generally from midnight to 1 a.m.); and an expanded daytime show, which will start at 10 a.m. on weekdays and as early as 5 a.m. on weekends.
The prime-time show, hosted for a ninth time by Bob Costas, will focus, as usual, on gymnastics, swimming, diving, track and field and beach volleyball.
Daytime coverage will feature those sports and others, including basketball, with Al Michaels and Dan Patrick sharing host duties.• NBCOlympics.com: All of the live broadcasts on NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC and Bravo will be available on line, in addition to the world feed of all the live events not airing on any of the NBC networks. The Internet site also plans to carry the awarding of all 302 medals.
For the first time, there will be multiple concurrent streams for select sports, including gymnastics, track and field and tennis. At its peak, there will be 40 — 40! — simultaneous streams. Keep in mind that the online option will be available only to verified cable, satellite and telephone company customers.
The breadth of Internet coverage marks a shift for NBC, which sliced the number of live streams from 25 at the 2008 Beijing Games to two during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. But long-time former NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol has left the network since the Vancouver Olympics, and the new Comcast management team seems more eager to embrace technology and live streaming.
Two apps — one focused on live streaming, the other on short-form highlights and schedules and results — will be available to mobile and tablet users.• NBC Sports Network: The cable channel, previously known as “Versus” until Jan. 1, will offer 292 1/2 hours of coverage of U.S. team sports, generally from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m., which covers the live Olympic day in London. The most prominent of the network’s three hosts: former ESPN personality Michelle Beadle, who handles overnights and mornings.
• MSNBC: Will serve up 155 1/2 hours of long-form programming of 20 sports, including badminton, basketball, soccer and wrestling, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, longer on weekends. Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman anchors.
• CNBC: Will air 73 hours of boxing, including the debut of women’s boxing, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily, with longtime Los Angeles sportscaster Fred Roggin anchoring.
• Bravo: Will carry 56 hours of tennis from early mornings to midafternoons. Pat O’Brien was taken out of mothballs to host.
• Extras: Many cable, satellite and telecommunications providers will provide two specialty channels (one for men’s and women’s basketball and another for soccer, totaling 770 hours), as well as 242 hours of general Olympic coverage in 3-D.
• Telemundo: Its 173 hours will focus primarily on boxing, swimming, basketball and soccer. Popular soccer announcer Andres Cantor anchors.
• Final note: NBCOlympics.com will list which sports are available on what channels, and NBC’s cable channels promise to run that information on a scroll.