SBD/February 6, 2014/Olympics

NBCSN Looks For Boost From Sochi Games, As Net Will Carry All Figure Skating Events

NBCSN added 5 million more households in the month before the Olympics
NBCSN stands to be a "big winner" from the Sochi Games, as the channel is set to telecast "more than 230 hours of live events from Russia ... in a bid to help boost the channel's ratings," according to Ronald Grover of REUTERS. The net will air several "big draws," including live figure skating coverage and the U.S.-Russia men's hockey game on Feb. 15. NBC said that NBCSN "added 5 million more households in the month before the Olympics, bringing to 85 million the homes whose cable or satellite operators carry the channel." SNL Kagan Research Dir Derek Baine said, "This could be a turning point for the network." NBCSN in all will "carry 11 sports, including live gold medal coverage of bobsled, speed skating and ski jumping" (REUTERS, 2/4). In Boston, Chad Finn notes NBC's "most daring alteration" from past Olympic broadcasts is its decision to broadcast all figure skating competition live on NBCSN, with a "later prime-time show airing on NBC." NBC Olympics Exec Producer Jim Bell said, "This is a unique opportunity to build an asset (NBCSN) with a sports audience, so we want to take that chance here, and we think figure skating makes the most sense because it’s one of the marquee sports." Finn notes because of the expanded coverage, NBC has "brought two sets of announcers for figure skating to Sochi." Tom Hammond, Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezik "will call the events in prime time" on NBC, while Terry Gannon, Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski will "handle the NBCSN broadcasts" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/6).

SAVED BY THE BELL: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Christopher Stewart noted Sochi will be "the first time NBC will broadcast the games without the expertise" of former NBC Sports Group Chair Dick Ebersol. To draw viewers, Bell "must in part create new stars from sports like curling and ice hockey by creating stories that viewers care about." Bell previously has had "the benefit of Mr. Ebersol's guidance." Bell's team "already has shot about 40 features focusing on the back stories of individual athletes, as well as a handful of longer pieces, including one about the 1994 figure-skating scandal between Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding." Meanwhile, the net is "banking on the promotional platform of the broadcast to cement a ratings surge this TV season, potentially getting NBC out of a yearslong struggle." NBC also hopes the broadcast "will elevate 'The Tonight Show' handoff from Jay Leno to Jimmy Fallon, who debuts in the middle of the games" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/5).

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED
: NBC Senior VP/Olympic Operations John Fritsche said that the Sochi Games has been "the most complicated undertaking" of his career at NBC. Fritsche: "One of the things logistically challenging about Russia and Sochi is that from a marketplace point of view there is no Home Depot here, no Costco here, no city industrial base or any kind of base to draw from. We have to bring everything we need, as much as we can, and then bring it back to the States." On Long Island, Neil Best notes production costs for NBC "reportedly will exceed" $100M. Fritsche said that it is "not difficult to understand why, given that Sochi is 'a little off the beaten path'" (NEWSDAY, 2/6). 

BUZZWORTHY: Throughout the Sochi Games, Twitter will incorporate NBC Olympics' content into the center of its Olympic dialogue. @NBCOlympics and Twitter will notify fans with relevant content for those who want more information about their favorite athletes and teams. In addition, data compiled by Twitter about the Olympic social media buzz will be used by NBC throughout the Games within its NBC Olympics multi-platform editorial coverage, including in primetime (NBC).

NORTHERN LIGHTS: The NATIONAL POST's Sean Fitz-Gerald noted the CBC is "returning as Canadian Olympic television rights holder for the first time in six years, and it only had 18 months to restart its machinery before the Opening Ceremony in Sochi." The CBC will "carry 1,519 hours of live programming from the Olympics, the most in the public broadcaster’s history." Every event will "be live on Canadian television or streamed online -- some of the content will be off-loaded to TSN and Rogers Sportsnet -- over 17 days, even though the CBC is not planning to send any more staff than it did" for the '06 Turin Games, the last Winter Olympics it broadcast. CBC Sports Head of Programming Trevor Pilling said that the net "would have about 200 workers on the ground in Sochi." Advances in technology "will allow most of the strings to be pulled from control booths at home, inside the labyrinthine corridors" of the CBC’s downtown Toronto HQs (NATIONAL POST, 2/5).
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