The Winter Olympics may feature half as many sporting events as the Summer Games, but it’s no less of a challenge to broadcast them. Just ask Jim Bell, the NBC executive who’s in charge of making sure the luge fans are just as satisfied as the ski-jumping aficionados when the time comes to watch the net’s 18-day coverage from Sochi. In fact, the Peacock is already preening that this year’s telecast of the XXII Olympics will receive the most U.S. coverage in the history of the winter event. “Winter sports are fantastic, and we [at the network] love the snow and ice and speed and danger and acrobatics and artistry,” Bell tells EW.
The plan is to telecast 1,530-plus hours of programming from Russia — more than Vancouver (835 hours) and Torino (419) combined. NBC can’t air all of it — that’s where sister nets like MSNBC, USA, CNBC, NBCSN, and even NBCOlympics.com come in handy. For the first time, the website will also feature live streaming of all events, no doubt because of the beating NBC took for refusing to show summer competitions like Michael Phelps’ dramatic men’s 400-meter individual medley loss until the tape-delayed prime-time show. It’s likely such gaffes helped NBCUniversal plan its coverage this time around. “We learned that…the people who wanted to find out Olympic results [in real time], those people tend to watch more of our prime-time coverage than anybody else,” Bell says. “They might watch it live, but then they’re gonna watch it again in prime time.”
So naturally the Mothership continues to obsess over the lineup for its coveted 60-plus hours of prime-time coverage. How does it decide which sports make the cut and which athletes to profile? “One of the crown jewels of the Winter Olympics is still figure skating,” says Bell. “From there you’re talking about alpine events like skiing, where the U.S. team is particularly strong. You’re seeing that with snowboarding as well. Apolo Ohno also did a lot to really raise the popularity of short-track speed skating, which is kind of like a demolition derby on ice.”
Athletes who are sure to get the lion’s share of the attention — at least initially — are returning 2010 medalists Shaun White (snowboarding), Shani Davis (speed skating), and J.R. Celski (short track). Women’s skiing freestyle moguls will also feature defending U.S. Olympic gold medalist Hannah Kearney, while American Jamie Anderson is a favorite to win the gold in women’s snowboarding slopestyle. The sport likely to get the least amount of prime-time love: curling. “It just takes a long time,” Bell admits.