Sochi 2014: Building On London’s Success, NBC’s Plans Include Live Streaming Every Event Except Opening Ceremony

In less than a month, the international sports world will center on the unlikeliest of places: a small, Russian resort town located on the Black Sea, nearly 1,000 miles from Moscow. Russia’s first Winter Olympics will call Sochi home.

NBC Sports will live-stream every event of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and, if the 2012 London Olympics are any indication, seriously hinder office productivity in the U.S. The Opening Ceremony on Feb. 7, however, will be reserved for primetime.

“We think it’s very important that we package that event, with all the Russian culture and industry that’s being creatively expressed,” explained NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus at Tuesday’s NBC Olympics Media Day. “Much of that program might not make sense to viewers without the context that Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira bring to that. We think it’s very important that we do that. It’s the right model. It worked for us in London, it’s going to work for us again.”

NBC-Sochi-Olympics-Logo-e1359908956956Although the decision to package the London Olympics Opening Ceremony for primetime garnered significant outrage from the Twittersphere, Lazarus believes that streaming the event “would not provide the audience the full pageantry that the Opening Ceremonies deserves.

“This is a ceremony. It’s a pageant. It’s a theater show. It is not a competition,” he continued. “As such, we think putting Matt and Meredith there and [adding] the context — to be able to explain the history and the tradition and the culture that’s going to be part of it — [will make it] a better viewing experience.”

Not surprisingly, NBC’s plans for the Sochi 2014 Olympics are the biggest and most extensive the Winter Games have ever seen. Nearly 2,700 NBC-credentialed employees will be on the ground in Sochi, with many more back in Stamford, CT. And the network’s plan to live-stream every event — most of which will be authenticated — is a Winter Games first.

“[The Olympics] is the defining event that this company has and goes through, and it’s almost impossible to overstate how much it means to NBCUniversal and all of Comcast,” said NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke. “For 18 days, every single part of our company gets behind the Olympics.”

Much has changed for the Peacock since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. For one, the iPad did not exist in 2010. Nor did NBC Sports Network. In Sochi, tablets will factor prominently in NBC’s digital plans, and NBC Sports Network — which will be in 85 million homes by Feb. 1 — will provide 12 hours of coverage a day.

The 2014 Sochi Olympics will unofficially begin with a night of primetime competition on Feb. 6, featuring team figure skating, snowboard slopestyle, and women’s free-style moguls.

“Being in the biggest country in the world, it’s only fitting that the Sochi Olympics are set to be the biggest Winter Olympics ever,” said NBC Olympics Executive Producer Jim Bell. “The Games are so big, in fact, that we had to add the extra night of primetime ahead of the Opening Ceremony. We’re really excited; it’s a unique opportunity for us to get the word out ahead of real competition.”

For more than two weeks, NBC will package each day’s events for primetime, hosted by Bob Costas, the longtime face of NBC’s Olympic coverage. In addition to competition, the network will have no shortage of human-interest features. One such long-form piece in the works will focus on Nancy Kerrigan, who will join NBC’s Olympics coverage in Sochi, and the 20th anniversary of the attack on her.

With Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strict anti-gay laws continuing to make headlines alongside mounting security concerns, Lazarus assured the media that NBC “will cover any social issues or political issues as they are relevant to the Games from a sports perspective.” NBC News will travel en masse to the Games and broadcast many of its programs live from Sochi. Should a situation arise, the team will be able to provide support for Costas as well as cover it from a news perspective.

“If anything — although obviously we have our fingers crossed that nothing happens — the prospect of a terrorist event, the controversy over the anti-gay laws, those things in an odd way have increased awareness and interest in these Games,” said Costas. “They don’t take the place of the competition, but I think people will be curious about them. And at the beginning, we’ll discharge our responsibility in a straightforward way, because framing those issues is part of the backdrop. It’s like describing what the weather is at a ballgame or what the crowd is like: you have to frame the circumstances under which these events are about to take place. Then you return to those issues if and when they impact the Games.”

While Putin’s anti-gay laws are certainly troubling to viewers and competitors alike, NBC plans to ensure that they do not overshadow the competition. For many athletes, the Olympics represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a fact central to NBC’s treatment of each Winter and Summer Games.

“We’ve seen everything,” said NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel. “We’ve seen construction delays, and we’ve seen games with security issues. We’ve seen games with social issues that we didn’t agree with and were troubled by. But what has consistently prevailed at every Olympics is that massive parts of the American audience will again reassemble for the better part of 16, 17, in this case, 18 days, to watch the incredible inspirational stories of the Olympic athletes told by an incredible production team.”

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