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NBC going all out for Summer Olympics coverage in Rio

NBC has been airing the U.S. Olympic Trials on its cable and digital networks.
NBC has been airing the U.S. Olympic Trials on its cable and digital networks.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

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When the Summer Olympics take place from Aug. 5-21, NBC will be all Olympics, all the time. Even "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" and "Late Night with Seth Meyers" will be replaced with live broadcasts from NBC studios on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach.

Unlike recent Summer Olympics in London and Beijing, Rio de Janeiro's time zone is just one hour later than eastern time in the U.S. — a fact that NBC intends to exploit. NBC will air 260 hours of Olympic programming, with an unprecedented 6,700-plus hours spread across NBC Universal’s cable networks. Add to that the 4,500 hours of live-streaming digital coverage, one can only imagine the flood of up close-and-personal, tear-jerking athlete profiles there will be.

To get more of an idea of what NBC is thinking, The Frame's John Horn spoke with Brian Steinberg, senior TV editor at Variety.

Interview Highlights

This year’s Olympics are not several time zones away. So what does that mean in terms of people watching the games in real time, not the next day or in the middle of the night?

I think you'll be able to see more of what you want at times where you might be awake to see it, as opposed to Beijing and London, where NBC more or less put them online to stream live and collect highlights during prime time for people to watch.

That's part of the problem, and it will still be a bit of an issue on the West Coast, that in past years, by the time an event got to prime time, if you paid any attention to social media or the news, you knew what the results were. I think NBC feels like that has been a huge problem. Do they have a benefit now of people watching more live events than in years past?

I think so. I think this will give an added heft to prime time. They also are more or less removing the schedule for two-and-a-half weeks. All you're going to see is "The Today Show" and [The Nightly News with] Lester Holt, and everything else is going to be Olympics. You'll have a late night show with Ryan Seacrest instead of Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers. I think since they're paying a lot of money for the rights for this thing, they're blowing it out on the broadcast network and also on many of their cable networks, on digital and on their Spanish stations as well.

Why is there so much content this time around? If you look at the total coverage, it's thousands upon thousands of hours. What is NBC's play here?

First of all, there's a lot of technology available now that lets them transit more of this stuff when it happens, as opposed to 20 years ago when something would happen in Nome or Beijing, wherever it was being held, and they'd have to have a way to collect it and distribute it. Now you can watch it in real time, and if you're interested you can watch it at work. I think the notion of waiting to see the highlights later on in the evening is kind of an anachronism and no longer really part of the behavior of a rising generation of TV viewers. 

Let's talk a little bit more about digital. and the NBC sports app will live stream — and I'm not making this up — 4,500 total hours. So what is the overall digital plan and does it include some virtual reality? 

There is some chatter about virtual reality and 4K HD as well. They haven't spilled the beans, but they are hinting that they're going to try it. I think there are just multiple behaviors in how people watch video these days and so if you're NBC or you're CBS or Disney, you need to dip your toe in all these waters and do it right away.

NBC Today Show anchor Savannah Guthrie is skipping the games over Zika virus worries, and many of the top golfers — including Jason Day — won’t compete. NBC spent more than $1.2 billion to get these games. With worries about athletes’ and visitors’ safety, is NBC maybe more nervous than they have been in years past?

I think they have to have security on their minds. Savannah not going is a big deal. That is a very recognizable face and one of their ambassadors for the network. The fact that she decided not to go says a lot about the danger of Zika and what it can do. But yeah, I do think that there has to be some kind of concern about the disease, and security. I'm sure these guys already have a pretty big security presence at the Olympics, but I do think this adds another wrinkle to the whole situation.

Live sports is one of the very few events on television where people don't use their DVR to fast forward through commercials. How much advertising revenue has NBC been able to book so far for this summer's games?

I believe they said in the past they booked over a billion dollars for this event. That's been a benchmark for them in the last couple of Olympic showings. They said they intend to go past it this year. They usually get a couple of major Olympic sponsors and then the network tries — after going to the International Olympic Committee — to go with its own clients and suss out different category exclusives of certain kinds of auto makers or banks. You generally will see the same ads several times over the course of those 16 days. 

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