Making the U.S. Winter Olympic team is no clear-cut deal. Most athletes earn their spots not at Olympic trials, but based on their performances during World Cup events in the months leading up to the Games.
NBC and its Olympic cable partner, Universal Sports, will bring an unprecedented amount of that action to American viewers – and try to explain what it all means – over the 100 days leading to the Vancouver Games.
NBC and Universal will mark the 100-day milestone on Nov. 4 by saturating programming with Olympic guests, commercials and a one-minute promotional spot for the Olympics across all NBC Universal networks at the start of prime time.
From there, NBC, Universal Sports and Universalsports.com plan 1250 hours of coverage of Olympic sports leading to the Winter Games.
“We’re excited, essentially for the first time as an Olympic broadcaster, to be able to present Olympic athletes and events as they prepare and compete up to the Winter Olympics,” NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel said.
While spots in the Summer Games are largely distributed through Olympic trials, many “regular-season” events during the winter are used as Olympic qualifiers.
It’s a complicated process – different for every sport – which is one reason Universal will have a prime-time studio show, debuting Nov. 4, and airing nightly beginning Dec. 1. The length of the show and the hosts have not yet been determined, but the show will provide features, news, and plenty of updates on how the U.S. rosters are shaping up.
“It’s confusing,” Zenkel said. “A byproduct and benefit of the rollout of this coverage is it gives us an opportunity on a daily basis to put the competition in context for those who are very focused on the Winter Olympics.”
This is the NBC-Universal team’s biggest pre-Olympic push of this kind, possible because of the partnership forged between the two networks shortly before the Beijing Olympics began in 2008.
Some also may view it as another salvo in a fight NBC seems to have already won – the rift between the network and the U.S. Olympic Committee, which has delayed previously announced plans to start its own Olympic sports network.
NBC’s point – being hammered home with this announcement – is that almost everything Olympics fans would want to watch can already be seen on its networks. The networks will air figure skating, alpine, cross country and freestyle skiing, snowboarding, speedskating, bobsled, skeleton and luge, ski jumping and others.
“One way to look at it is, it’s the regular season of winter sports,” Zenkel said. “For the first time ever, this all happens and is accessible to the American public. It’s great for Universal Sports.”