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NBC Sports' coverage of the Olympic Games consists of broadcasts on the various networks of NBC Universal in the United States, including the NBC broadcast network, Spanish language network Telemundo, and many of the company's cable networks. The telecasts during the Olympics run primarily in the evening and weekend afternoons on NBC, with varying times on the other networks (after the close of the stock market day on CNBC for instance, the early mornings on MSNBC, and overnights on the USA Network). The USA Network broadcasts were later transferred to the new NBC Sports Network, beginning with the 2012 Summer Olympics.
The on-air title of the telecasts, as typically announced at the start of each broadcast and during sponsor billboards, is always the official name of the games in question, e.g. The Games of the XXIX Olympiad for the 2008 summer games. However, promotional logos may reflect the more common location-and-year name format, e.g. "Beijing 2008".
NBC has held the American broadcasting rights of the Summer Olympics since the 1988 games and the broadcasting rights to the Winter Olympics since the 2002 games. In 2011, NBC agreed to a $4.38 billion contract with the International Olympic Committee to broadcast the 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020 Olympics, the most expensive television rights deal in Olympic history.
NBC made their Olympic television debut when they showed the 1964 Summer Olympics from Tokyo. They did this with the aid of the Syncom 3 satellite for direct broadcasts. When NBC televised the opening ceremonies of the 1964 Summer Olympics, it was the first color broadcast televised live via satellite.
The Olympic competition itself was broadcast in black-and-white. Thanks to the Syncom 3 satellite, a daily highlights package could be seen a few hours after the events took place; otherwise, film canisters were flown across the Pacific Ocean and were broadcast to American viewers the following day.
Meanwhile, NBC first televised the Winter Olympic Games in 1972. Anchored by Curt Gowdy, much of the coverage actually was broadcast live since alpine skiing and long track speed skating were held in the morning, which translated to prime-time on the U.S. East Coast. A young sportscaster making his network television debut at Sapporo was a 26-year-old Al Michaels, who did play-by-play of hockey. Eight years later, he would call the famous 1980 "Miracle On Ice" at that year's Winter Games in Lake Placid for ABC Sports.
NBC had won the U.S. broadcast rights for the 1980 Summer Olympics, but when the United States Olympic Committee kept U.S. athletes home to honor the boycott announced by President Jimmy Carter, the telecasts were greatly scaled back. In the end, what had been 150 hours of scheduled coverage, shrunk to just a few hours. Highlights were fed to local NBC stations for use on local newscasts. Many affiliates, however, refused to show the Olympic highlights on their local news or clear airtime for the few hours of coverage NBC did present.
NBC's extensive coverage was canceled before a prime time anchor had been named; it was said that Nightly News anchorman John Chancellor (a former NBC Moscow bureau chief), along with sportscasters Bryant Gumbel and Dick Enberg, were reportedly being considered for the prime time studio host role.
NBC then bid for, and won, the rights to show the 1988 Summer Olympics. Network officials convinced the organizers in Seoul to stage most of its gold-medal finals in the afternoon, which is prime time of the previous night in the U.S. The Today Show's Bryant Gumbel was the prime time host that year; Bob Costas hosted the late-night show while Jane Pauley was one of the hosts of early-morning coverage.
Gumbel and Dick Enberg were co-hosts for the opening and closing ceremonies.
A curious result was that, since in the United States the 1988 NFL season had just started, NBC would plug the holes (primarily play-by-play broadcasters) with well-known older broadcasters such as Curt Gowdy, Ray Scott and Merle Harmon, among others.
Just as his mentor Roone Arledge had before over at ABC, Dick Ebersol, who took over NBC Sports in 1989, decided to make the Olympics a staple of his network's sports television schedule. NBC continued its Summer Games coverage into the decade, with both the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona and the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. And as with Arledge (who had to deal with the Munich massacre during the 1972 Summer Games), Ebersol had to deal with breaking news during the Games. During the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in 1996, NBC suspended its coverage of a volleyball game and broadcast the news for several hours commercial-free. Bob Costas, late night anchor during the 1988 Seoul Olympics, made his debut as prime time host in 1992.
To help offset the increasing costs of broadcast rights, NBC turned to cable and satellite services for additional coverage. In 1992, NBC teamed up with Cablevision for the Triplecast, which provided three channels of pay-per-view telecasts that supplemented NBC's regular coverage. However, NBC lost over $100 million, the package was dropped, and there was no supplemental coverage from Atlanta.
Coverage in the first decade of the 21st century revolved around two major storylines:
With Comcast merging with NBCUniversal many people thought they would not bid for the television rights for the next Olympics, after losing money from the 2010 Olympics. Also Dick Ebersol left as NBC sports chairman, who led NBC for overbidding in the last two Olympics. However it was announced on June 6, 2011 that NBCUniversal had won the television rights for the 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020 Olympics, beating out ESPN/ABC and Fox. The entire package for the rights was $4.38 billion, making it the most expensive television rights deal in Olympic history. NBC paid $775 million for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and $1.23 billion for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Also NBC paid $963 million for the 2018 Olympics to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea and $1.45 billion for the 2020 Olympics, currently in the final stage of host bidding between Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo. NBC has announced that it will begin airing all of the events live on TV or the internet. It was announced on April 4, 2012 that the NBC Sports Network would show all U.S. team events for all sports, starting with the 2012 Olympics. The rights had previously belonged to USA Network.
|Year||Host||Hours of Coverage||Main article|
|1964 Summer||Tokyo, Japan||45 minutes daily and 12 hours overall.|
|1972 Winter||Sapporo, Japan||37|
|1980 Summer||Moscow, Soviet Union||primarily highlights (6 hours of highlights)|
|1988 Summer||Seoul, South Korea||179.5|
|1992 Summer||Barcelona, Spain||161 + 1080 on Triplecast|
|1996 Summer||Atlanta, Georgia||171|
|2000 Summer||Sydney, Australia||441.5|
|2002 Winter||Salt Lake City, Utah||375.5|
|2004 Summer||Athens, Greece||1210|
|2006 Winter||Torino, Italy||416|
|2008 Summer||Beijing, China||3600||2008 Summer Olympics on NBC|
|2010 Winter||Vancouver, Canada||835|
|2012 Summer||London, United Kingdom||5535|
Traditionally, NBC has primarily televised marquee sports in its Olympic coverage. When the network added coverage on its cable partners in 2000, it allowed them to televise other sports. 2004 marked the first year that they televised all 28 sports in the Summer Games. In 2008, aided with online streaming, NBC aired many of the events held at the summer games live.
The main theme of the Olympic coverage is "Bugler's Dream," composed by Leo Arnaud. It debuted on ABC in 1964 for that year's Winter Games in Innsbruck, was used for all ten Olympics carried by that network, and was first used by NBC in 1992, when NBC bought the performance rights and commissioned its own version. Other songs used on NBC include compositions from John Williams (including "Olympic Fanfare and Theme", "The Olympic Spirit", "Summon the Heroes", and "Call of the Champions"), David Arkenstone, and John Tesh (whose "Roundball Rock", best remembered as the theme for NBC's NBA coverage during the 1990s and early 2000s, was added to the basketball coverage in 2008). During the announcements of upcoming events, NBC has used the Randy Edelman composed theme song from the short-lived Fox TV series The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. The theme was also used for NBC's Major League Baseball coverage from the start of the 1996 postseason through the 1998 All-Star Game.
Despite the 2010 Winter Olympics being held in Vancouver, three hours behind New York, and in all of their previous Olympic coverages, NBC has delayed the broadcast of higher-profile events held during the day to air in prime time. As a result, almost none of the popular alpine events were shown live. Executives say this is done because they see better Nielsen ratings with coverage in the evening hours. Nevertheless, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver were assumed to be a financial disaster for NBC, as the network was expected to lose about $200 million after overpaying for broadcasting rights. However, the tape delay practice even for major events is increasingly frustrating with viewers when considering the increased usage of social networking and Web sites (including the official Vancouver 2010 site and NBC's Olympic website) posting results in real time. This especially holds true for viewers in the Pacific, Mountain, Hawaii, and Alaska time zones, where events are delayed even further by three to six hours or more, and also holds true for events shown live for the East Coast, with very few exceptions.
As a result, these practices has spawned outrage across the internet and even raising concerns from politicians. This controversy in Vancouver came mere days following the controversial resolution of the 2010 Tonight Show host and timeslot conflict, which further damaged NBC's already broken image. NBC executives are frequently referred to as the "undertakers" of Olympic live coverage.
In the past, American viewers who lived close to the Canadian border were able to get around waiting for NBC to air an event by watching Olympic coverage on CBC Television. However, starting with the 2010 games, rights in Canada moved over to CTV, which is not available on many northern U.S. cable systems due to primetime program redundancy with the American networks.
At the 2000 Summer Olympics, every event on NBC and its cable channels was shown on a tape delay due to the time difference between the United States and Sydney, with the exception of the Men's Gold Medal basketball game.
At the 2012 Summer Olympics, NBC did offer all events live on their Olympics website, which provided the opportunity to see all events live powered by YouTube. NBC also used a mixture of live coverage and tape delay for their television broadcast due to London being 5 hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone. Events contested earlier in the day were able to be shown live on one of the Universal networks, while events that traditionally draw better ratings, such as swimming, artistic gymnastics, and track and field, would be tape delayed and aired during prime time on NBC since there would be no live coverage available at that time due to it being after midnight in London. Those events drew their traditionally high ratings, but arguments were lodged about not having the option to watch these events live on television.
Furthermore, members of the U.S. Military were forced to watch the delayed NBC feed despite being within a few hours of the time zones of the event. American Forces Network was contractually hindered by Department of Defense regulations only allowing American feeds of broadcasts to ensure a feel of the broadcast that could be had in the USA. Additionally, AFN had an agreement with the International Olympic Committee and NBC to only use NBC feeds of the event. Many soldiers in Europe felt slighted by the delays, given comparable local country stations aired the Olympics live on public TV feeds as some events aired late at night or early in the morning on AFN.
In a Gallup poll, many indicated that they did not mind the tape delaying for the nighttime window. However, the complaint lodged by the subjects in the poll was that NBC should show the events live on one of their networks, as well as show it in prime time on NBC.
During the closing ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics, NBC went into an intermission of coverage at the end of the cultural section at 10:30 pm EST, to broadcast the debut of The Marriage Ref, and broadcast the remaining portion of the ceremonies on tape delay at 11:35 pm EST after late local news. This spawned outbursts from upset viewers, especially on Twitter.
During the remaining portion after the "intermission", several performances including Francophone Quebec singer, Garou, were not shown at all even though several other countries broadcast the performance in full. In the US three minutes of commercials were shown in place of his performance. He sang "Un peu plus haut, un peu plus loin" (A Little Higher, A Little Further), written by Jean-Pierre Ferland.
NBC faced a barrage of criticism following its broadcast of the 2012 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony.
British news media lambasted the American television network, calling NBC's decision to cut a tribute to the victims of the 7 July 2005 London bombings an "outrage." In response to the criticism, NBC spokesman Greg Hughes said, "Our programming is tailored for the U.S. audience. It's a tribute to (opening ceremony producer) Danny Boyle that it required so little editing."
The commentary - particularly that of Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer - was also criticized as "ignorant" and "banal". They admitted to not knowing who World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee was, and described Madagascar as "a country associated with a few animated movies". Australia was introduced as a former penal colony, and a joke about the former despotic dictator, Idi Amin, was used to describe Uganda by Bob Costas. Kazakhstan was introduced with comments about the March 2012 incident at the H.H. The Amir of Kuwait International Shooting Grand Prix in Kuwait, in which the mock Kazakhstan anthem from the film Borat was mistakenly played for gold medallist Maria Dmitrenko, and another eastern European country introduced as having no chance of winning medals in this Olympics.
NBC also found itself on the defensive over its tape-delayed broadcast of the Opening Ceremony.
American viewers took to Twitter to express their dismay at having to wait three and a half hours (six and a half hours in the Pacific Time Zone) to see the opening event of the London Olympics. Most of the Twitter posts centered around NBC not offering online streaming of the Opening Ceremonies for U.S. viewers who wanted to watch the event live. Americans were forced to watch either BBC or CTV online streams of the ceremonies if they elected to watch it live. These failings were picked up during the NBC broadcast by users of Twitter with the hashtag #nbcfail.
NBC spokesman Christopher McCloskey said, in a statement, "It was never our intent to live stream the Opening Ceremony or Closing Ceremony. They are complex entertainment spectacles that do not translate well online because they require context, which our award-winning production team will provide for the large prime-time audiences that gather together to watch them."
McCloskey's statement was roundly ridiculed by media observers and Olympics enthusiasts.
Despite these issues, the Nielsen ratings for the coverage set a record for an Olympics held outside of the United States. The ceremonies drew a 23.0 rating, which was a 7% increase over the 2008 Opening Ceremony in Beijing.
Due in part to lingering criticism from social media outlets like Twitter, NBC made a last minute decision to reverse course and stream the Closing Ceremony live on their website.
When aired on television though, the London 2012 Closing Ceremony was heavily edited for time.
London's Olympic closing ceremony had a run time of three hours, eight minutes and ten seconds. NBC's broadcast of the closing ceremony, however, featured more than fifty-one minutes and twenty-three seconds of cuts – 27% of the entire closing ceremony – including delaying broadcast of the final hour in order to insert a fall series preview and local news programs.
The medal ceremony for the men's marathon, a tribute thanking the olympic volunteers, and musical performances by Muse, Kate Bush and Ray Davies were not shown. NBC interrupted the closing ceremony before The Who took stage to air a sneak preview of the sitcom Animal Practice and late local news. Again, American viewers expressed their dismay using social media. Bob Costas himself criticized the decision when appearing on Conan O'Brien's talk show in September 2012. "So here is the balance NBC has to consider: The Who, 'Animal Practice.' Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend -- monkey in a lab coat. I'm sure you'd be the first to attest, Conan, that when it comes to the tough calls, NBC usually gets 'em right," Costas said, alluding at the end to O'Brien's involvement in the 2010 Tonight Show conflict.
Despite the 2012 Summer Paralympics being a breakthrough games for international media coverage, helping significantly boost overall audience shares for British broadcaster Channel 4 and Australia's ABC, no Paralympics events were shown live on television in the United States. International Paralympic Committee President Philip Craven criticized North American broadcasters, and NBC specifically, for having fallen behind the times and said in future the International Paralympic Committee would scrutinize broadcast partners more carefully. "If the values fit, we've got a chance. If they don't we'll go somewhere else," he said.