A fresh start for NBC Olympics: No more ‘plausibly live’ for Paris Games this summer

NEW YORK (AP) — The days of “plausibly live” Olympics coverage on NBC are coming to an end.

The network displayed some of the new features it has planned for coverage of the Summer Olympics in Paris starting on July 26 — including personalized highlights packages generated by artificial intelligence with the voice of Al Michaels and a star turn by Steven Spielberg — but none could match the sea change in attitude toward how the Games are presented.

For years, NBC has zealously guarded its prime-time Olympics telecasts no matter the time zone, aggravating fans blocked from seeing key events if they happen earlier in the day live. Attempts to essentially pretend that the events were being seen live added to frustration.

This year, NBC said Wednesday that Mike Tirico will host two daily Olympics shows, one that coincides with prime-time in Paris (2 to 5 p.m. Eastern in the United States) and featuring live competition in marquee sports like swimming, gymnastics and track & field. The other, during prime-time hours in the United States while Paris sleeps, will be a curated view of the day’s best action.

Meanwhile, the network promised that its affiliated Peacock streaming service would show every Olympic competition live.

“We’ve given the audience choice, which I think the consumer wants,” said Molly Solomon, NBC Olympics executive producer. “We know how popular live sports is, so to hold something back doesn’t make any sense in this new media landscape.”

What does the decision mean?

That means reconfiguring how NBC structures its telecast for prime-time in the United States, always the biggest draw for viewers. NBC won’t just show competitions, but will use the extra time to tell viewers more about why things played out the way they did, and give a backstage view, she said.

Producers are aware that many viewers come to those delayed broadcasts already knowing who won some of the events, while others won’t and will want to be surprised.

“We never want to ruin the suspense,” Solomon said. “But it is a tightrope act.”

More heavily than in the past, NBC will lean into personality profiles of athletes and feature celebrities in the coverage; Snoop Dogg, for example, is coming to Paris on NBC’s dime. Solomon said she might make use of features that are being planned for Peacock, such as a highlights package narrated by Kevin Hart and Kenan Thompson.

“It’s going to look very different from the prime-time shows that you’ve seen in the past,” she said.

That will also require some business adjustments, with NBC selling advertising packages that include inventory in both “prime-time” broadcasts, said Mark Lazarus, chairman of the NBC Universal Media Group. The network is also preparing to emphasize viewership counts across all of its platform, in a way that deflects attention from likely ratings decreases in the evening compared to past years.

Moving away from the past on Peacock

Lazarus also acknowledged that NBC did a poor job with its Olympics offerings on Peacock four years ago, essentially overpromising and underdelivering, and consumers reacted with “the big digital middle finger.”

He promised dramatic improvement for Peacock this summer.

The streamer is also using AI to allow fans to create personalized highlights packages, by picking in advance some favorite sports and the type of action they would like to see. AI will then deliver those specific highlights, narrated by an AI-generated model of Michaels’ voice — eerily realistic during a demonstration given on Wednesday.

NBC estimates it will create some 7 million variations of highlight packages through the new service.

Besides Snoop Dogg, NBC is bringing in celebrities like Kelly Clarkson, Peyton Manning and Jimmy Fallon for its coverage. It announced Wednesday that “Saturday Night Live” actor Colin Jost will help cover surfing from Tahiti. And to emphasize storytelling — NBC is billing the Olympics as a reality show, comedy and drama all in one — Spielberg will narrate “Land of Stories,” a short film that will run before the Olympics opening ceremonies.


David Bauder writes about media for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://twitter.com/dbauder.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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