The Olympic Television Guide
NBC will air 5,535 hours of programming, including Friday's Opening Ceremonies
NBCOlympics.com/LiveExtra will offer live-streaming of all events
Veteran hockey announcer Mike Emrick will call water polo
Sure, there are those who dislike the saccharine storylines, the over-the-top melodrama, and the tendency of announcers to channel their inner ethnocentrism. But no other multi-day event on television in the U.S. provides a similar communal experience as the Olympic Games does. Simply put: We are a nation of Ringheads.
The Beijing Games drew 215 million total viewers on NBC's networks in 2008, including an average of 27.7 million viewers over 17 primetime broadcasts. Though the Winter Olympics historically draws a smaller audience than the Summer Games, NBC's networks still pulled in more than 190 million people for the 2010 Vancouver Games.
The London Games, however, represent a seismic shift for the host broadcaster. NBCUniversal will make every event available live and online for cable and satellite subscribers, and with all events available live (which sports fans demand), the question becomes whether a large audience will remain loyal to NBC's primetime broadcast. The network -- and its advertisers -- are betting the answer is yes.
"That's still when people and families gather around the television and they are willing to stay up late to do it," said NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus. "This has been a successful formula and you should not change what is successful for the sake of change. We will amplify it by using the new technology, but we will not change something that has been successful."
As far as the coverage, there has never been more tonnage for an Olympics, highlighted on Friday with the Opening Ceremonies at 7:30 p.m. The ceremonies actually begin at 4 p.m. ET (9 p.m. London time), but U.S. viewers won't be able to see them until NBC's primetime programming begins.
All told, NBCUniversal will air 5,535 hours of Olympic programming across multiple platforms (NBC, NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, Telemundo, NBCOlympics.com, a pair of dedicated channels covering basketball and soccer competitions on some cable systems, and the first-ever 3D platform). It is an unprecedented level that surpasses the coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics by nearly 2,000 hours. Since you're going to need some help navigating through the coverage, we offer this Q&A primer below:
Which sports will be on which platforms?
Here's how NBCUniversal's coverage breaks down (Keep in mind that London is five hours ahead of the Eastern United States.):
NBC will broadcast 272.5 hours of coverage, including its primetime programming, which will feature the traditional formula of packaged storytelling. The coverage will begin on most weekdays at 10 a.m. ET/PT, following the Today show. The weekend coverage will begin as early as 5 a.m. ET/PT.
NBC Sports Network is the home of U.S. team sports, including men's and women's basketball, field hockey and women's soccer. The network will broadcast 292.5 hours of total coverage, including soccer qualifying on July 26. The coverage will air weekdays from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET.
Bravo is the network of Olympic tennis and will air 56 hours of coverage over seven days, from July 28 to Aug. 3. The coverage will run early morning to mid-afternoon (ET) on most days.
CNBC will feature Olympic boxing, including the debut of women's boxing. The channel will air 73 hours of coverage over 16 days. Coverage will air from 5-8 p.m. ET during the week, with six hours of live coverage airing each day on the weekends.
MSNBC will air 155.5 hours of Olympic coverage, featuring a variety of sports from badminton to basketball to soccer to wrestling. On most weekdays, coverage will air from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. ET. There will be longer programming windows on the weekends.
Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo will air 173 hours of coverage, with an emphasis on sports such as basketball, boxing, swimming and soccer. Telemundo will live stream more than 200 hours of coverage via nbcolympics.com/telemundo.
How can I watch the best events live?
NBC will make every event available live online for cable, satellite and telco customers. But you will need to verify your subscription or account to access the coverage on NBC Olympics Live Extra, which will air 3,500 hours (and all 32 Olympic sports) via live-streaming online, and on a mobile and tablet app.
Here's how you do that: 1. Go to NBCOlympics.com/LiveExtra. 2. Click the "Click Here & Get Ready" button. 3. Select your cable, satellite or telco provider. 4. Enter the username and password that corresponds with your account.
NBC says customers with multiple devices should repeat the procedure on each device. For customers that are having trouble verifying their subscription, NBC says a temporary one-time pass will be extended for four hours during the Olympic Games.
NBC's NBC Olympics app will provide live results, short-form highlights, columns, TV and online schedules. Both NBC Olympics and NBC Olympics Live Extra will be available on select Android handset and tablet devices within Google Play, and on the App Store for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
Will every medal be shown online?
Yes. All 302 medals will be shown online and NBC says it will provide multiple concurrent streams for select sports such as gymnastics (each apparatus), track and field (each event) and tennis (up to five courts). Thus, you can watch a single feed moving from event to event or watch one event from beginning to conclusion.
Will all the events that are streamed live online have NBC announcers?
Mostly, no. This won't be close to the same experience of watching the regular NBC coverage. NBC says about half of the sports, including the most high-profile events, will have the Olympic Broadcasting Service commentators.
What can you see online if you don't verify or authenticate your account?
NBCOlympics.com will live stream some Olympic content that airs on NBC. Some event replays and video highlights will also be available.
Can I see a archived replay of a high-profile event on NBC's Olympics website if I missed it live?
Not immediately. Let's use the finals of the men's 200 individual medley as an example. The Aug. 2 final (scheduled for 3:16 p.m. ET) is likely to include both Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps, one of two races (along with the 400IM) they will swim head to head. NBC will not archive this event on its site. Why? Because it wants to protect its primetime audience. So you'll be waiting until the next day for a full video replay. NBC says it will archive primetime events online following the conclusion of primetime in the Pacific time zone.
So what will I see in primetime?
Well, for starters, Bob Costas. It's the ninth consecutive primetime assignment for the NBC broadcaster and the de facto television face of the Olympics. Traditionally, NBC has gone heavy with swimming, gymnastics, track and field and diving and that will be the case again. Beach volleyball will also get some play, along with the occasional slice of additional sports. The network's producers are experienced Olympic hands and the production should feel similar to Beijing and Vancouver, even with a new executive producer (Jim Bell) at the top of the food chain. Away from the Olympics, Bell is in charge of the Today show, which may explain his fondness for Ryan Seacrest as an Olympics correspondent.
Speaking of Ryan Seacrest, why exactly is he in London?
Bell told SI.com last month what struck him about Seacrest (who will work as a roving reporter) was "his curiosity, work ethic and interest in the Olympics." Seacrest will annoy the traditionalists, for sure. Whether he's a hit with the casual fans, we'll see. One senses Seacrest's segments will carry the depth of a Kardashian summit. There are some other boldfaced name correspondents, including Jimmy Fallon, John McEnroe and Shaun White.
Does NBC have an Olympics philosophy?
In short, it's to keep you glued to the television for as long as possible, and preferably in primetime, where NBC makes its most money from advertisers. But the mantra from all producers is storytelling, and expect to see similar tones from previous Olympics.
So other than Costas, what on-air people will I be living with over the next 17 days?
Al Michaels and Dan Patrick have been tagged to host NBC's Olympic daytime show during both the weekday and weekends. Mary Carillo will serve as both NBC's late night host and an Olympic correspondent. Some of names of note: Speedskater Apolo Ohno is making his Olympic broadcasting debut as a reporter; Doc Rivers and Doug Collins will work as basketball analysts and McEnroe makes his Olympic debut as primetime contributors.
Former ESPN-er Michelle Beadle will make her Olympic debut as a host on NBC Sports Network's coverage. the Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman will host MSNBC's coverage, and Pat O'Brien will pilot Bravo's coverage of tennis. Telemundo's team is led by Andres Cantor, who is always a fun listen. The entire list of announcers is here.
Wait, Mike Emrick is doing water polo?
Indeed. The voice of hockey in America is returning to the pool for his second go-around with water polo, adding some flare to an already great television sport.
What will be the under-the-radar sport to break out at the Games?
Time to channel your inner-Katniss Everdeen, my Hunger Games devotees. Lazarus predicted that archery would draw the attention of some Olympic viewers. "It's become a little more mainstream and I think younger fans who have an affinity toward things like the Hunger Games will give it a chance," Lazarus said. "There's also a couple of young interesting stars that have great personalities. That's one I would keep an eye on. And that next answer will be golf and rugby in 2016." When asked the same question, Bell suggested cycling, which will have an amazing backdrop and British athletes close to the lead.
Will NBC see a repeat of the epic television ratings of Beijing?
No, and network officials smartly admitted that to the 70 journalists who attended an Olympic press event last month at NBC's famed Studio 8H, the studio for Saturday Night Live. The ratings for Beijing were the best for a non-U.S. Summer Games since the 1992 Barcelona Games. "I would love to match those numbers," Lazarus said. "I think it's an unlikely scenario. We are not going to measure ourselves on whether we achieve those ratings or not. We're going to measure ourselves on whether several hundred million people experience the games across our platforms."
Give us five must-watch events?
July 28: Swimming, 400 IM men's final (Ryan Lochte vs. Michael Phelps), 2:30 p.m. ET.
Aug. 2: Gymnastics, Women's Individual All-Around Final (Jordyn Wieber vs. Gabby Douglas), 11:30 a.m.
Aug. 5: Tennis, Men's singles gold-medal match, 9 a.m. ET
Aug. 5: Track and Field, men's 100 final (Usain Bolt vs. Yohan Blake) 4:50 p.m. ET
Aug. 9: Women's Soccer, gold medal game (U.S. vs. Japan?), 2:45 p.m.
How will NBC call the parade of nations during the Opening Ceremonies on July 27?
Well, let's ask Costas. "You could talk to 10 reasonable people and they would all have different perspectives on what they'd like to have emphasized, how much or how little background they'd like on each country, and the degree of solemnity that should be brought as opposed to the degree of reface that should be brought," Costas said.
"Some people sit there and watch and they see elements of Cirque du Soleil, no matter how well it's done. Other people look at it and they feel the who thing should be sanctified. I try to walk some kind of balance between those two things -- try to have at least one worthwhile nugget of information about each country. On the other hand, 200 countries, that can become a little repetitive. So you try to parse that out as best you can. But if anybody has a formula for the exact right way to cover an opening ceremony, contact me immediately
Host broadcasters often go over-the-line with cheerleading. How will NBC avoid this?
Said Lazarus: "We can't hide from that, but from a journalism point of view, we need to do an honest job of representing all the best athletes and all the best stories. We have to be respectful of the hundreds of other nationalities who live here in the United States who will watching our broadcast, and we want them to be able to cheer for their fans. We are predominately an American audience but we should be respectful of every nation and show them.
What will happen if major news breaks such as terrorism or a security issue?
NBC News will be on the ground and NBC producers will make a decision on a case-by-case basis who leads the coverage. "We will service the news the way news needs to be serviced and what should be covered by news versus sports," Lazarus said.
These will be a huge games for social media. Will you see tweets on the air?
At some point, yes. Bell said that if he had to answer today, "I think that will probably happen."
What announcer as the best back story?
Eric Giddens, who has an Ph.D. in oceanography, owns a brew pub in Kernville, Calif., and was a 1996 Olympian, will be the analyst for flat water and white water canoeing. "I think that kind of epitomizes the kind of people we're looking for, they're smart, they're savvy, they know their sport, and they're well-rounded, and they also know how to make a good beer," said Molly Solomon, NBC Olympic coordinator producer.
Will Dick Ebersol be in London?
Indeed, the former NBC Sports Chairman and Olympic pied piper will be at the Games. He'll be serving as an advisor and Bell said he will consult with him every day.
How many employees will NBC have in London?
It's an army. The network will have roughly 2,800 credentialed employees in London.