NBC to stream events in post-Ebersol Games

If you miss any of your favorite events during the upcoming

Summer Olympics in London, don’t blame NBC.

Every sport, every single competition will be streamed live

online or telecast by NBC and its affiliated cable networks in the

U.S. this summer – starting with the Great Britain vs. New Zealand

women’s soccer game on July 25, two days before the opening

ceremony.

It will be the most visible change for NBC in its first Olympics

coverage since 1992 not run by veteran television executive Dick

Ebersol. Ebersol, executive producer of eight winter and summer

Olympic telecasts for NBC, quit as head of NBC Sports in May 2011.

He will still be in London working for NBC as a consultant.

On television and online, NBC will offer 5,535 hours of Olympics

coverage. The NBC broadcast network itself will have 272 hours,

including the flagship prime-time telecast that will amount to a

”greatest hits” of each day’s competition.

Ebersol’s successor as NBC Sports Group chairman, Mark Lazarus,

ordered the live streaming during his first Olympics planning

meeting after taking the new job.

”I said, ‘This is what I believe. Convince me that we should

not be doing it,”’ Lazarus recalled. ”Nobody convinced me.”

NBC offered streams of several events from the 2008 Beijing

Games, but would not present any of the showcase competitions that

it was taping for later broadcast in prime time. The concern was

that fans who saw the events live online wouldn’t bother watching

NBC that night, depressing ratings for the broadcast that mattered

most.

In Beijing, however, some marquee events such as swimming were

held in the morning in China so they could be televised live in

prime time in the United States. In London, the time difference

won’t allow for that option.

Lazarus believes that many people who watch an event online will

be interested in seeing how NBC handles it later. Fans watching

live streams are also expected to use social media, building

anticipation for the broadcast.

Any people who don’t want to watch on NBC what they’ve seen

online will be more than offset by extra viewers drawn in by the

excitement, Lazarus said.

Fans who want to see the streams on NBCOlympics.com will have to

verify that they are paying cable or satellite subscribers. NBC

says that’s necessary to protect these businesses since they pay a

premium to air the NBC cable stations because of the Olympics.

While most live streams will be archived, reruns of high-profile

events that are going to be shown on the network will not be

available until after the West Coast broadcast.

There will be times that NBC’s Olympics website is showing as

many as 40 separate competitions at the same time, said Gary

Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics.

The decision could neutralize what has always been a major

criticism of NBC – that showing some events only on a tape-delay

basis makes them feel stale, particularly in an era of instant

communication. It might keep viewers from fleeing NBC, since some

frustrated fans had sought out live telecasts from other television

or Internet sources, said Andrew Billings, a sports media professor

at the University of Alabama and author of ”Olympic Media: Inside

the Biggest Show on Television.”

”They realize it has to go in this direction,” Billings said.

”Some people say they are four to eight years late in this

game.”

The time difference – it will be 1 a.m. in London when NBC’s

prime-time broadcast begins on the East Coast, 4 a.m. for the West

Coast show – means no events will be offered live on the telecast

most people watch.

Ebersol might no longer be in the control room, but NBC will

keep his template. Under his direction, the prime-time broadcast

began concentrating on four major competitions: swimming, diving,

gymnastics and track and field. Later, beach volleyball was added.

Those sports accounted for 93 percent of the prime-time coverage in

Beijing, Billings said.

The idea is they are the best for the bite-sized competition and

personal stories that attract female viewers. If the audience is

dominated by male sports fans, as opposed to families, then it’s a

losing proposition for NBC.

”We’ll try to have a little more variety,” said Jim Bell,

executive producer of the Olympics telecasts, ”but for the most

part there are some tried and true sports that we know people love

to watch.”

Bell’s experience producing four hours of live television each

day at the ”Today” show was key to his selection replacing

Ebersol in the control room, Lazarus said. Bell also has an

Olympics pedigree: His first NBC job out of college was pushing the

wheelchair of a temporarily disabled NBC executive around Barcelona

for meetings two years before the 1992 Olympics there.

”Today” might be one of the best jobs to teach a TV executive

the need to meticulously plan for a broadcast, yet also understand

when the situation calls for throwing those plans out the

window.

NBC Olympics executives, most of whom owe Ebersol for their

jobs, see no reason to change what’s been a successful formula. As

a consultant, Ebersol is offering frequent advice to Lazarus,

Zenkel and Bell and will be in London.

”They found a formula and I’d be stunned if they moved away

from it too much,” Billings said.

There will be several changes on NBC’s cable menu. For the

network itself, Ryan Seacrest and John McEnroe are being added to

the mix to contribute feature stories.

Since its acquisition by Comcast Corp., NBC Universal has

renamed the Versus cable channel the NBC Sports Network, and it

will take much of the Olympics programming that in recent games has

been seen on USA. A successful entertainment network, USA will

stick with entertainment.

The NBC Sports Network will average 14 hours a day of coverage,

focusing on team sports like the U.S. men’s basketball team’s

pursuit of gold.

CNBC, as it has in the past, will air boxing when the financial

markets are closed. Bravo will telecast tennis. MSNBC is turning

its daytime hours over to the Olympics, airing 20 sports from

badminton to wrestling. The Spanish-language Telemundo, heavy on

soccer and boxing in past games, will offer more hours of Olympics

coverage and show a greater variety of sports.

Despite the hours and attention, Lazarus anticipates that the

games will not be profitable for NBC. The Olympics under Ebersol

made money until 2010, when the Vancouver Winter Games lost an

estimated $223 million.

The network paid $1.18 billion for the rights to telecast the

London Olympics, but Lazarus said that isn’t driving the main cost

concerns.

”The cost of doing business in London was more than anybody

anticipated,” he said. ”We will have 2,700 people there. That

comes with a price.”

The value of the games can’t be measured simply by looking at

the costs and profits of the competition, he said. It’s expected

the Olympics will provide a boost for the ”Today” show, ”NBC

Nightly News” and Jimmy Fallon’s late-night broadcast, as well as

publicize the network’s fall offerings, he said.

With NBC’s prime-time lineup on a long, slow slide toward

irrelevancy, there’s value to the brand in being the center of

television for a couple of weeks.

”We will look at it certainly as a success,” Lazarus said,

”assuming we don’t fall off a cliff.”