Inside the Sochi Games: Your television guide to Olympics viewing
You will watch because you always watch. This is the only confident prediction regarding the Sochi Games. The Vancouver Olympics drew 190 million television viewers four years ago, confirming once again how our collective remote always points to televised games when national sporting pride is at stake. So you will watch these Olympics, but the draw for Sochi goes beyond potential athletic achievements. The steady drumbeat of distressing news out of Russia, from corruption to terrorism threats to gay rights issues, has made the run-up to these Games compelling in a joyless way.
NBCUniversal, naturally, has attempted to present Sochi in the best possible light because they have a lot invested in the product. The company shelled out about $775 million for the U.S. television rights for these games and the Olympics are always an essential driver to promote NBC's morning, primetime and late-night programming as well NBC's cable networks. How much Olympics will NBC air? The networks of NBC -- and its online offerings -- will telecast 1,539 hours of programming from Sochi, more than the total for Vancouver and Torino combined
"Our plan is pretty straightforward: We're going to deliver the most comprehensive coverage the Winter Olympics have ever had," said NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus.
The breakdown between platforms is as follows: NBC (185 hours), NBCSN (230), MSNBC (45), USA Network (43), CNBC (36) and NBCOlympics.com (1,000 hours online). During the 18 days of the coverage (Feb. 6-23), NBCUniversal will average 85 hours of coverage daily. So good luck sleeping, Ringheads.
Since you're going to need some help navigating through the coverage, we're here to offer this Q&A primer below:
I've heard NBC will be airing events prior to the opening ceremony. Is that true?
Indeed, it is. NBC's primetime coverage of the Sochi Games starts Thursday, Feb. 6 with the debut of snowboard slopestyle (men's and women's), in which two-time gold medalist Shaun White is expected to compete. It's also the debut of team figure skating (the men's short program and pairs short program). Women's moguls will also be shown. The Opening Ceremony then comes the next night.
NBC obviously has the ability to turn an Olympic athlete into a megastar off a great performance. Who does the network have its eye on?
Alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin, just 18, has been dubbed by some as the Mozart of ski racing, and NBC desperately wants someone to follow in the footsteps of Lindsey Vonn. Shiffrin is telegenic and the best slalom skier in the world, so I'd expect to see a lot of her. I'd also look for NBC to absolutely squeeze as much airtime as humanly possible out of Lolo Jones, who was given the third and final brakeman spot on the U.S women's bobsled team.
Speedskater Shani Davis, alpine skier Bode Miller and snowboarder Shaun White and -- all returning gold medalists -- will also get a lot of attention. Davis and White are attempting to become the first American men to win titles in the same event at three Olympic Winter Games after earning gold in Turin and Vancouver.
Will every event air live on television?
No. But every event will be available live online for the first time for a Winter Games. Events will be streamed live on NBCOlympics.com and via the NBC Sports Live Extra mobile app (iPhone/iPad/Android). The vast majority of live streaming will only be available to authenticated cable, satellite or telco customers. One important note: The Opening Ceremony will not be streamed online.
Say I want to watch an event on streaming video but I cannot watch it live. Is there some kind of archive after they first air?
NBC says they will restart all of the online feeds for early morning events (U.S. time) each day at 3:00 p.m. ET. That would give people a second opportunity to watch those feeds that are no longer live. After those events run in prime time, the event will be sliced up into highlight form and be available on demand.
The news out of Russia has been awful, from terrorism to gay rights issues. How will NBC Sports handle news coming out of these Games?
The network is talking like a responsible news-gathering entity. We shall see. "We have spent a lot of time thinking about how we're going to cover the news," said Lazarus. "Our partnership with NBC News makes this pretty easy and also a balancing act on how we're going to work. We will cover any social or political issues as they are relevant to the Games from a sports perspective. NBC News will be there in full force with all of its journalists and all of its shows to cover news items. We've been doing this on an ongoing basis, whether it's related to security, or as you've already seen, as it relates to the LGBT situation that is in Russia."
What kind of images can you expect to see from Sochi?
"It's really more about the mountains and the ice and the snow necessarily than the city," said NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell. "The Caucasus Mountains look spectacular, and the coastal cluster nestled there along the Black Sea is visually stunning. So I think Sochi is going to play just fine on television."
So what are the new events debuting in Sochi?
There are 12 new events and a quick primer on each can be found here thanks to my colleague Brian Cazeneuve. There will be 98 gold medals awarded in Sochi.
Figure skating is always one of the most popular events during a Winter Olympics. What do I need to know to watch?
All the figure skating will air live on cable during the day (Eastern Time), with the key performances airing on tape delay on NBC as they have done in previous Olympics. NBCSN is the designated figure skating channel and coverage will begin the morning of Feb. 8 with the team event. The AP reported a separate announcing team will call the live broadcasts on NBCSN, with Olympians Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir providing commentary.
What is the one channel outside of NBC I should keep my eye on?
NBCSN will show 230 total hours of coverage across multiple sports from Sochi, a record for a cable channel. This is the channel with the most comprehensive coverage during the day including complete, live coverage of figure skating. It will also air 16 men's hockey games through the bronze-medal round, including the men's hockey game between the U.S. and Russia on Feb. 15. NBCSN will also have the U.S. and Canada women's hockey game on Feb. 12 and live gold-medal coverage of events in bobsled (Lolo Jones, alert), Nordic combined, cross-country skiing, speedskating and ski jumping. NBCSN will air at least one gold medal final live each day through its 16 days of coverage. Live coverage on NBCSN will begin at 3 a.m. ET and continue for 12 hours on most days.
Give us five must-watch events for the Sochi Games?
Sunday, Feb. 9: Men's Downhill (The competition will air tape-delayed between 7-11 p.m. EST on NBC, but you can watch live online at 2 a.m. EST).
Saturday, Feb. 15: Men's Hockey: (U.S. vs. Russia, 7:30 a.m. EST, NBCSN).
Tuesday, Feb 17: Ice dancing free skate, 10 a.m. EST, NBCSN. (U.S. skaters and world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White battle Vancouver gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.)
Thursday. Feb. 20: Women's Hockey Gold Medal Game (noon-3 PM ET, NBC). This game will air live in all US Time Zones.
Sunday, Feb. 23: Men's Hockey Gold Medal Game (6:30-10 am ET, NBC). This game will air live across all US Time Zones.
How did Team USA do at the last Winter Olympics?
The U.S. won 37 overall medals -- nine gold, 15 silver and 13 bronze. That's also the number of overall medals won by NBC's 84 Olympic commentators (10 gold, 15 silver and 12 bronze) .
I've read there is some sort of Red Zone-like Channel?
That would be Gold Zone, which is a streaming channel on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports Live Extra app. [To get Gold Zone, you must be an authenticated cable, satellite, and telco subscribers and register via NBCOlympics.com] The channel will provide more than 100 hours of hosted whip-around coverage of the most popular live action from the Sochi Games. It will stream 7 a.m.-3 p.m. ET on most days (For more info, check out the Sports Video Group writeup of it). "We are stealing a little bit of what the Red Zone is for the NFL, a whip-around show bringing you from event to event, live look-ins and analysis," said Rick Cordella, the general manager of digital media for the NBC Sports Group. "It's serving the fan that doesn't necessarily know where to go. It's saying, 'This is important now, take a look what's happening.'"
The Gold Zone hosts are Andrew Siciliano (who is the host of DirecTV's NFL RedZone channel) and Ryan Burr of The Golf Channel. There's also Olympic Ice, a 30-minute online program featuring highlights and analysis of figure skating will run on days figure skating occurs, each day around 5:30 p.m. ET. Gold medalist Sarah Hughes will serve as an analyst on it, with host Russ Thaler.
How many employees will NBC have in Sochi?
The network will have 2,300 accredited people in Sochi, with most leaving this week for the Games.
How confident is NBC about the security of its employees?
"We have never seen the type of security that we are now seeing in Russia at any prior Olympic Games in terms of the credentialing, surveillance, and amount of resources that have been committed to this area," said NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel, who will work his tenth Olympics with Sochi.
Which broadcasters will I see the most during the Sochi Games?
Olympic warhorse Bob Costas will serve as both NBC's primetime and late night host given the time difference (Sochi is nine hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone in the U.S.). This is the 10th time Costas has hosted Olympic primetime coverage, a record for U.S. broadcasters. Al Michaels will host the daytime show on NBCSN (weekdays) and NBC (weekends). Dan Patrick and Rebecca Lowe will host NBCSN's daytime weekday and weekend coverage. NBC News anchor Lester Holt will host NBC's weekday daytime coverage. Olympic correspondents Ato Boldon, Mary Carillo and Cris Collinsworth will also get plenty of airtime.
What are the most watched Winter Olympics in history and will these Games top them?
The 1994 Lillehammer Games (aired by CBS) was watched by 204 million people thanks to Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. The Vancouver Olympics ranks second with 190 million total viewers. I think these Olympics will top Vancouver but not Lillehammer.
Yo, media writer guy? You are going to Sochi, right? But I hear you won't be covering media.
This is mostly correct. I'll once again be writing SI.com's Olympic Daily Briefing as I've done for the last couple of Olympics as well as dropping some words on speedskating. But I promise at least one media piece on NBC during the coverage, so stay tuned and thanks as always for reading.
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.)
1. Last week Fox's producers offered an extended explanation of why they cut short the interview with Richard Sherman. My SI.com story on that is here. I also followed up with Fox's Richie Zyontz, the producer of the NFC Championship game, a couple of days later to see if he remained confident that he made the correct decision. "I haven't felt as good about anything since the Mets won the World Series in 1986," Zyontz said.
1a. Westwood One and TNT broadcaster Kevin Harlan was highly critical of how Andrews conducted the Sherman interview.
1b. Fox Sports producers Mark Potter and Jeremy Berg got some little kids to re-enact the Andrews-Sherman interview. It is pretty funny.
1c. The AP's Rachel Cohen on how NFL networks are making audio a key part of their broadcasts.
1d. Last week Fox Sports paneled a group of Seahawks fans together and offered them $5,000 if they could stay quiet for the entire NFC Championship. The network taped the experiment and it was pretty great.
2. What are the Super Bowl's biggest storylines? Is Media Day a good idea? Who will be the most quotable Bronco? I held an email roundtable with a group of reporters who have covered nearly 70 Super Bowls between them: Mike Klis (Denver Post), Shalise Manza Young (Boston Globe) Jeff McLane (Philadelphia Inquirer), Armando Salguero (Miami Herald), and Ed Werder (ESPN).
3. Each pro football-airing network will have a small army in New York and New Jersey for Super Bowl-related programming this week. For those interested, here's the complete list of events and commentators:
3a. Westwood One will have live radio coverage of the Super Bowl, with Harlan doing the play-by-play for the fourth straight year and Boomer Esiason serving as the color analyst for his 14th consecutive year. The sideline reporters are Mark Malone and James Lofton. Jim Gray will anchor the pregame and halftime coverage, with appearances by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Rod Woodson
4. One of the most challenging sports media jobs during Super Bowl Week are the sports-talk radio producers who have to wrangle guests to fill hours of airtime. I recently held an email roundtable with three producers of national radio shows (Kyle Brandt, executive producer of The Jim Rome Show on CBS Sports Radio; Todd Fritz, executive producer of The Dan Patrick Show and Liam Chapman, a producer for ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike) to offer insight into how crazy Super Bowl week is for a national radio show. (For all you Luddites: Paul Pabst, Fritz's colleague, said Fritz keeps all of his contact numbers either on a notebook or in his head; He does not trust computers).
What is your booking philosophy for Super Bowl Week?
Brandt: Come one, come all. The most fun part of Radio Row is the grab bag factor. Cam Newton will sit down across from Jim right as Vanilla Ice is leaving, and then the second he's done, Joe Montana shows up. It's bedlam. This year it's like, "Can we squeeze Jesse Pinkman [Aaron Paul] in between Ronnie Lott and Randall Cobb?" Hell, yes, we can. The other thing that's huge is letting guests pitch their products. Because everybody is pitching something. We don't do much of that during the rest of the year, but for Super Bowl Week if a guest will hang out and talk football for 10 minutes, we'll talk about their soda or soup for one minute. One year in consecutive segments we got ice cream sandwiches from Tim Brown, avocados from Shannon Sharpe, and smoothies from Bill Romanowski. It's part of the fun. There are so many goods and products showing up, by the end of three hours, our stage looks like a Doomsday Bunker.
Chapman: To get the biggest names in football on the show not in terms of quantity but in terms of quality. Over the years we have made the decision to go with less guests and set the bar very high as to who we want to join us Super Bowl Week. This year we've changed up our thinking slightly; you will still see the biggest names in football on the show but we're also going for more entertainers to give this year a different feel than the same football guests that will appear on every other show throughout the week.
Fritz: I'm trying to determine who will be in town -- and prioritizing who we're most interested in having on set with us.
How difficult or easy is the process to land people?
Brandt: It's easy to land guests, but it's tricky to land good guests. My favorite bookings are the ones we do on the fly. We'll be in commercial and Jim will say, "Hey I think I just saw Ricky Watters walk by. We go way back. See if he wants to come on." Then five minutes later we're talking '90s Eagles and Super Bowl XXIX. It's the only time of year you can be that spontaneous with booking.
Chapman: Over the years I've managed to build good relationships with networks/agents/clients etc ... so once you have made the initial contact, it's funny how you really do work with the same people year in and year out when booking guests. Obviously we have a big platform and guests want to come on the show so a lot of the time guests are pitched to me, which doesn't hurt.
Fritz: It's challenging because no matter how far in advance you try to secure appropriate guests, they or their representation/handlers often don't know if they will be in town or what their exact schedules look like until days before Super Bowl Week. You also have to factor in things like where you're broadcasting from in relation to where most of the prospective guests might be, traffic on the roads, and schedules that can change by the minute.
Roughly how many guests will you book during Super Bowl week?
Brandt: During a normal week we do about 15. Super Bowl Week we'll do two or three dozen. Most shows don't do the entire week on Radio Row, so Monday and Tuesday it's pretty barren. Then around Wednesday, the floodgates open. It turns into "Knucklehead Alley" and we book 12 guests for 12 segments. I've had to turn away a Hall of Famer because his time window was already committed.
Chapman: Right now we have 26 guests locked in. As I mentioned, in years past, we would go wall-to-wall guests on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, which would have us at around 40 to 50 guests. But we're aiming for less guests and more Mike and Mike this time.
Fritz: We really look for quality, not quantity, when it comes to guests. Ideally, it would work well to have at least one on-site guest each hour but we'll modify that as the week progresses based on news of the day and who we learn is available on short notice that we'd enjoy having join us.
Who would be your dream get during Super Bowl Week and why?
Brandt: There are not a ton of people Jim hasn't done over the years, but he and I were just talking the other day about how we'd love to get Arnold Schwarzenegger into The Jungle. I think he's the only person to have the athlete/major movie star/politician trifecta. And his voice is perfect for the air. When I saw Arnie in his Super Bowl commercial, I was hoping he'd make it to Radio Row. He could probably fill an entire hour just with stories from the set of Predator.
Chapman: The dream get this week is obviously Peyton Manning. That's a tough one that we're working on it but if it doesn't work, we've got Archie and Eli coming. Really, the dream gets are the ones who never do any interviews or the big newsmaker when there is a breaking news story. Any time you get that "A" guest it's a good feeling for everyone on the show.
Fritz: Michael Jordan? President Obama? Adriana Lima? Jennifer Love Hewitt?
5. Asked whether they had any impact on Lolo Jones being named to the U.S. Boblsed Team for Sochi, NBC Olympics executives fired off some multisyllabic words.
6. Michelle Beadle will officially leave NBC Sports in March. Her next stop appears to be ESPN.
7. Sports stories of note this week:
• Grantland's Rembert Browne on Richard Sherman and the thug athlete narrative.
• The New York Times' Sarah Lyall on Celebrity row at New York Knicks games.
• National Post columnist Bruce Arthur, on rooting for an Iron Fist from Russia.
• Deadspin examined the use of the word thug on television. Not surprisingly, ESPN2's unctuous First Take ranked high among sports shows.
• Via The Nation: How Serious Is The Terror Threat At The Sochi Olympics.
• New York Times' Steven Lee Meyers on Putin's Olympic fever.
• Jeff Pearlman interviews sports writer Chuck Culpepper.
• ESPN.com's Ian O'Connor on Vince Lombardi's high school coaching legacy.
Non-sports pieces of note:
• Grantland had an oral history of the film Swingers.
• Eagle Scout. Idealist. Drug Trafficker? Fascinating piece by the New York Times on a drug hub known as Silk Road.
• Via The Washingtonian: Daniel Pearl's Last Story.
• Last Man Fighting: Another brilliant obit from The Economist.
• New York Times political reporter Amy Chozick had a well-reported profile of Hillary Clinton.
8. An example of how hard it is for a fledgling sports network to knock off ESPN: The most-viewed college basketball game that' aired since the start of the current season is ESPN's Michigan State-Kentucky broadcast on Nov. 12, 2013 -- the game drew 4,002,020 viewers. Fox Sports 1's most-viewed college basketball game for this season came on Dec. 1 with Kentucky-Providence, a game that drew 360,413 viewers. Furthermore, ESPN's least-viewed game this season (George Washington-Marquette) beat FS1's most-viewed game by 49,781 viewers.
9. NFL Network national reporter Albert Breer was not listed on any of the network's press information regarding its Super Bowl coverage, a curious absence given the Super Bowl is the biggest event on the NFL calendar. Said an NFL Network spokesperson: ""Albert is on a temporary leave of absence from NFL Media." When contacted by SI.com on Friday, Breer said that it was a personal matter and he hoped to be working back soon.
10. Love this GIF (from Chris Fogler) of Rafael Nadal pumping himself up.
10a. Premier League fans: NBC Sports Network will air a "Transfer Deadline Day Special" on Friday at 6:30 p.m. Steve Bower will make his NBCSN Premier League debut as host as Rebecca Lowe heads to Sochi for Olympic coverage.
10b. Chelsea's victory over Manchester United last Sunday, averaged 1.019 million viewers on NBCSN, just missing the Premier League U.S. cable record (1.033 million for the "Manchester Derby" on ESPN on April 30, 2012).
10c. Here's the NFL season in 160 seconds, produced by ESPN's NFL social media team and voiced by Trey Wingo.
10d. CBS Sports will broadcast 22 golf tournaments this year, including the Masters, PGA Championship, 20 PGA Tour events and eight golf specials.
10e. Nice work by ESPN's Tom Rinaldi and Co. on the Roger Federer-Rafa Nadal rivalry.