By Barry Janoff
August 4, 2016: NBCUniversal is ready, willing and able to envelop you with all the numbers of its coverage of the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro: an "unprecedented" record 6,755 hours of programming, an Olympic record $1.2 billion generated in national ad sales (up 20% from London, according to NBC), 120,000 tons of equipment on the ground, 2,000-plus employees, 450 cameras and an estimated 75,000 square feet of space inside the NBC Olympics compound.
But NBCU is also able to show and tell you that the key to the 2016 Olympics is covering the 28 sports events and telling the stories of many of the anticipated 10,500 athletes representing their nations as they compete for more than 300 medals.
"Storytelling is still at the core of everything we do," said Jim Bell, executive producer, Olympics for NBC Sports. "I think in primetime especially because you're introducing the audience to athletes that most of the audience doesn't know and they're trying to watch sports that, outside of the Olympics, they never watch.
"So it's a tall order to connect the audience with what's going on," said Bell, speaking on a media conference call this week as a lead-in to the Opening Ceremony for the Summer Games on Aug. 5. "The audience comes, usually, willing and hoping to have that. It's not simply a sports event. It's a human event. They want a little bit of the story line that goes into it."
In the case of Rio, however, the story lines also include the Zika virus, water pollution, political and financial woes in the city and the nation of Brazil and the potential threat of violence, for which an Olympic record 80,000-plus police, soldiers and other security forces will be in place.
"It's the same, really, as past Olympics," said Bell. "I think there are always concerns, justifiable or otherwise, or some justifiable, some maybe a little bit extreme.
"We had it certainly in Atlanta, Sydney, Athens by all means, in London and Sochi, where there are different things that we had to be aware of. It's not our first rodeo. We have a pretty good sense of how to gauge certain things and the risks that are involved.
"And we feel reasonably confident about things here and are cautiously optimistic these are going to be a great Games for the people of Rio, for the athletes and for the world," said Bell.
NBC has had exclusive U.S. coverage of every Summer Olympic Games since Seoul in 1988 and every Winter Olympics Games since Salt Lake CIty in 2002. In 2011, NBCUniversal extended its TV rights deal for the Olympics through 2020 for $4.38 billion, and in 2014 again extended those rights through 2032 for $7.65 billion, according to industry analysts.
That span includes the ten most-watched events in U.S. TV history, according to NBC. The list is topped by the 2012 Summer Games in London, with 217 million viewers; and the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, with 215 million viewers. NBC is estimating that the Summer Games in Rio will top both of those figures.
Bell's Olympic resume is equally impressive. He has worked on every Olympics since the 1992 Barcelona Games with NBC Sports (1992, 1996, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2012 and 2014) or NBC News (2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012).
"It's simply breathtaking to consider that a mere 20 years ago in Atlanta (1996) we telecast about 170 hours and now we're creeping up on 7,000," said Bell. "And while, of course, we're very proud of our engineering capability, our production capability . . . it is still the overall quality that we have in television, especially in primetime that we're looking forward to here."
According to Bell, what has also changed is the amount of time that people are willing to invest in feature and personality pieces.
"We have got to do more storytelling in a shorter time," said Bell. "In the past you might have four minutes to play a lovingly crafted, produced piece of television to say here's this guy's story. (Today) that's a long time for people. They get a little itchy.
"So a lot of times that can be done in a piece that's maybe 90 seconds or two minutes. Or it can be done simply with the announcer and the analyst cutting away to a family member in the stands and telling some anecdote that means something to the audience," said Bell.
NBC is getting significant dollars from official International Olympic Committee partners, which include Atos, Coca-Cola, Bridgestone, Dow, GE, McDonald's, Omega, Panasonic, Samsung and Procter & Gamble.
Also adding major dollars to marketing are such U.S. Olympic Committee partners as 24 Hour Fitness, AT&T, BMW, BP, Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), Chobani, Citi, Dick's Sporting Goods, Hershey, Hilton, Kellogg's, Liberty Mutual, Ralph Lauren, Smucker's, Ameritrade and United Airline.
According to NBC, the "most active" categories are automobiles, alcoholic beverages (beer, wine), telecom, insurance, movies, CPG, QSR and retail.
Even though they will air it on tape delay, consistently high viewing numbers for the Open Ceremony will see a bevy of marketers breaking commercials, including BMW ("Built For Gold" pictured below), Dick's ("Gold In Us" pictured above), Apple ("The Human Family"), Nationwide ("Songs For All Your Sides"), United ("One Journey. Two Teams" pictured bottom), P&G and Coca-Cola.
NBC alone is scheduled to broadcast 260.5 hours of Olympic programming, including coverage of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, swimming, gymnastics and track and field, according to NBCU.
NBCSN will have 330 hours of Olympic programming covering more than 20 sports, both more than any other TV network, including Team USA women’s soccer and Team USA men’s and women’s basketball.
Telemundo and NBC Universo will air 273.5 hours of coverage, the most extensive Olympic coverage in the history of U.S. Spanish-language television, per NBCU.
And, of course, there is the impact of coverage on social media.
“The Rio Olympics will be the most social Games ever, and we want to make sure to reach fans on every platform,” said John Miller, CMO for NBC Olympics. "Harnessing the power of Olympic athletes, social media influencers, our own commentary team, and our social media partnerships, fans will be more connected to the Games than ever before.”
Among others, NBC has deals with Yahoo, Google, Twitter, Facebook. Snapchat, Instagram and Buzzfeed.
According to NBC, "Dedicated social media teams on the ground in Rio and in NBC Sports Group’s International Broadcast Center will push out content 24/7."
"The world is evolving in terms of our audience's ability to consume and understand these technologies," said Bell. "I'm hopeful that whether it's on our Web site or using the Olympic app, things will be fairly intuitive.
"I know that four years ago in London we were very proud/nervous that we decided to stream all the coverage live. And I think for a lot of people the initial experience was less than favorable because they didn't know how to authenticate it."
According to Bell, "You're seeing now people who have Hulu, Netflix, HBO GO, and they've gotten more comfortable around it. In Sochi we had virtually no complaints as people have gotten more educated about it, how to interface with the coverage from device to device, how to authenticate, how to stream. So I'm hoping that trend continues as we continue to offer it on more platforms."
Good news for those companies advertising on NBCU broadcast and cable networks: Bell said that research from London shows that "people who were willing to have all these devices on watching the Olympics, actually watched more Olympics on television than people who just watched the Olympics on television. That sort of marked them as Super Fans, and we'd like to see their ranks grow.
"There's been a lot of tough things going on in the world," said Bell. " I think it will be nice, fingers crossed, if we can have a couple of weeks to give people something to cheer about."
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