NEW YORK – 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 said. “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.
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 will show as many as 40 separate competitions at the same time.
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.
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