NBC Aims to Boost Olympics Despite Uncertain Pandemic Climate

NBCUniversal gave its strongest indication yet that it would move forward with plans to broadcast 7,000 hours of Tokyo Olympics events even as worries continue over the potential health of attendees and athletes as Japan continues to grapple with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Jeff Shell, NBCU’s CEO, along with other executives present Wednesday at an event designed to preview the company’s plans, suggested a global audience was eager to emerge from an era of forced isolation and enjoy a shared experience and see the event, which has already been postponed by a year. These Games “could be the most meaningful Olympics of our lifetime,” suggested Molly Solomon, the executive producer of NBCU’s Olympics broadcast.

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The Olympics are a critical piece of the economic underpinnings of NBCU and its corporate parent, Comcast. The companies paid $4.4 billion for a rights deal that allows NBCU to cover the Olympics in the U.S. through 2020, and agreed to pay $7.75 billion for broadcast rights to the Olympic Games between 2021 and 2032. NBCU came away from its Rio coverage with approximately $250 million in profit. The company was poised to take in more than $1.2 billion in advertising for the 2020 Games before they were scuttled. NBC has spent the last year working with dozens of sponsors to get them to transfer their financial support to this year’s broadcast. During the event, Mark Lazarus, the NBCU executive who oversees the company’s TV and streaming operations, said ad sales had been “robust,” but noted the company still had more inventory to sell. NBCU said it expected to exceed ad-sales levels for its Rio Games broadcast in 2016.

Executives described a plan that would give viewers hours and hours of Olympics content, but offer them guidance on how to find the exact broadcasts they wanted. Producers intend to break up blocks of programming on one network with alerts and quick bits about offerings on other outlets. Fans can watch a highly-curated primetime show on NBC; delve into specific, long-form coverage on cable outlets like USA and CNBC, and watch a host of specialty programs on streaming hub Peacock.

The Peacock offerings may be some of the company’s most unorthodox. Amber Ruffin, the late-night host, will be on the ground in Tokyo to offer commentary on the streaming hub, which will also feature a highlights show, “Tokyo Tonight,” a quick-turnaround highlights and interviews program, led by two popular former ESPN anchors, Cari Champion and Kenny Mayne. Another program, “On Her Turf,” will focus on women’s sports at the Olympics and be anchored by Lindsay Czarniak, Lolo Jones and MJ Acosta-Ruiz.

Executives indicated the company would have its staffers adhere to all safety protocols, but noted that NBC was there to cover the proceedings, not dictate how they ought to be run. “We are not in a position” to tell the International Olympic Committee how the Games should be conducted. When asked about safety concerns, executives said the company already had 150 to 200 people on the ground in Tokyo and expected to follow all health regulations.

More to come…

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