The daily drumbeat of headlines tells a similar story: Americans are divided on Presidential candidates and social issues, with rhetoric sky-high on all sides. But into this tumult comes the Rio Olympics, which has a myriad of issues of its own (pollution, infrastructure, doping, crime to name a few) but offers the possibility of primetime relief from the arguments of the day. If you believe Americans are looking to collectively rally around something, one of the few places where Clintonistas and Trumpers can unite is rooting for Team USA in Rio. The Games will also be contested in one of the most friendly time zones for an Olympics not contested in the U.S.—just one hour ahead of the Eastern Time Zone.
If you are an NBC Sports executive, you will enjoy this prediction: The Rio Olympics will be the most-watched Games of all-time (not such a bold prediction) and that NBC’s primetime broadcast of the Olympics will top the London Games average of 31.1 million viewers nightly (a little bolder). The 2012 Olympics were the most-watched Summer Games not contested in the U.S. in 36 years and I think Rio will top it.
Why? NBC has the benefit of ready-made Olympic stars such as Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Kerri Walsh-Jennings, the U.S. men’s basketball team and a host of other Olympians already well known to its audience. The Games coverage will also be aided by the Americans being a heavy favorite in women’s gymnastics—one of the biggest ratings drivers of a Summer Olympics. Like Gabby Douglas in 2012, Simone Biles will be appearing on NBC about as much as Matt Lauer in August.
NBCUniversal says it will air 6,755 hours of programming for the Games, which is roughly 356 hours of coverage per day (19 days). The network said if the 6,755 hours ran on one channel, it would take 281 days to finish airing. Since you can’t watch all the coverage, SI.com offers an Olympic Guide to help you navigate the TV Games:
OK, where can I watch coverage of the Rio Olympics?
There are two broadcast networks dedicated to the Olympics (NBC and Telemundo) and multiple cable channels (Bravo, CNBC, Golf Channel, MSNBC, NBC Sports Network (NBCSN), NBC Universo, USA Network). There are also two specialty channels (Basketball and Soccer).
NBCOlympics.com will provide more than 4,500 hours of live event competition including live streaming coverage of every competition at the 2016 Rio Olympic, plus event rewinds and extensive video highlights. (We’ll give you more information on streaming options further down in this column.)
I’m not into every Olympic sport. Does each channel have a specific theme?
Yes. NBC will air 260.5 hours of coverage beginning Friday, Aug. 5 with the opening ceremonies and concluding on Sunday, Aug. 21 with the closing ceremonies. Across primetime, daytime and late night shows, NBC’s coverage will feature many of the Olympics’ most popular sports. On most days, NBC primetime programming will air from 8 p.m.–midnight ET/PT; daytime from 10 a.m.–5 p.m. ET/PT; late night from 12:35 a.m.–1:35 a.m. ET/PT; and replays from 1:35 a.m.–4:30 a.m. ET/PT.
• NBCSN—the home of team sports including women’s soccer, men’s and women’s basketball—will present 330 hours of Olympic programming. In addition to basketball and soccer, coverage will include track and field, archery, boxing, cycling, fencing, field hockey, judo, open-water swimming, rugby, shooting, soccer, synchronized swimming, table tennis, weightlifting, wrestling and more.
• Telemundo and NBC Universo will offer Spanish-language coverage of the Games including 273.5 hours of coverage, the most extensive Olympic coverage in the history of U.S. Spanish-language television. The networks begin with women’s soccer on Weds., Aug. 3 and will air all the Mexican men’s soccer team matches.
• USA Network will air 110.5 hours of programming from Rio. Most weekdays, USA will present eight hours of coverage, from 9 a.m. ET to 5 p.m. ET, including men’s basketball, beach volleyball, cycling, rowing, synchronized swimming, volleyball, and water polo.
• The Golf Channel will air 115 hours of tournament programming as golf returns to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years.
• Bravo will be the home of Olympic tennis, televising 94.5 hours of live coverage. For each of the first five days, Bravo will air Olympic tennis for more than 12 hours, from 9:30 a.m. ET until 10 p.m. ET. The final four days will each consist of eight hours of coverage, from 11 a.m. ET to 7 p.m. ET.
• MSNBC will carry 78.5 hours of Rio Olympic programming, including coverage of men’s basketball, beach volleyball, rugby, soccer, volleyball, and water polo.
• CNBC will air 42 hours of coverage including elimination-round coverage of basketball and volleyball, as well as archery, beach volleyball, cycling, rugby, water polo, wrestling, and many more sports.
• NBC Olympics will provide NBCUniversal distribution partners with two Olympic specialty channels—one each for basketball and soccer. The specialty channels will focus 779 hours of content solely on each of their respective sports nearly every day of the Games.
That’s a little overwhelming. Are there day to day television listings somewhere for every event?
What about streaming live events on mobile device or computer?
NBC will stream 4,500 hours of competition from Rio including live streaming of all competition. You can access the coverage via NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app including all competition sessions across all 34 sports. The streaming coverage will be available on desktops, mobile devices, and tablets, plus connected TVs for the first time.
Here is the important thing: You can only stream live events if you are an authenticated pay TV subscriber via TV Everywhere. You must sign up for this. Users will be able to stream 30 minutes of coverage prior to authentication on their first visit, and five minutes each subsequent day.
Who is calling the 2016 Olympics in Rio?
NBC has 170 NBC Olympics commentators—the most ever for an Olympics—across its networks. Bob Costas has served as NBC’s primetime Olympic host for every Olympics on NBC since 1992. Here’s a list of the rest of the commentators.
Are there particularly commentators you like?
There are many I like, but analysts Ato Boldon and Rowdy Gaines, host Rebecca Lowe and correspondent Mary Carillo are always standouts.
Why is NBC not airing the Olympic opening ceremony live?
The Opening Ceremonies will air (and be streamed online) on a one-hour delayed basis (for the East Coast) starting at 8 p.m. Eastern. As per this excellent piece from Jonathan Tannenwald of Philly.com, broadcasts in western regions will have staggered start times. Coverage in the Mountain Time Zone starts at 7 p.m. local (9 p.m. EST), and coverage in the Pacific Time Zone starts at 8 p.m. local (11 p.m. EST). Coverage in the Central Time Zone starts at 7 p.m. local, the same hour as the Eastern time broadcast window.
Why is NBC doing this? “Part of it is there are no commercials [breaks in the stadium for the program] in the opening ceremonies,” says NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus. “If we just ran it live, we’d be blocking stuff out and taking it away from viewers to do commercial breaks. By curating it for an hour, we can cover the entire show and still do commercial breaks and keep everything in sequence.”
Tannewald interviewed a number of NBC executives to ask them specifically about the opening ceremonies. If you are an Olympics watcher, I highly recommend the piece above.
Who is hosting the Opening ceremonies?
The current (and alumni) Today Show trio of Matt Lauer Meredith Vieira and Hoda Kotb. There are no traditionally sports people hosting the coverage so think of this as the Macy’s Day parade.
The news out of Rio is a mess. Should Olympic viewers be skeptical of how NBC Sports will cover the underbelly of the Games?
You should indeed. As a general rule, I’d go with digital non-rights holders (Associated Press, AFP, The New York Times, the Washington Post, etc.) long before I go to NBC Sports for any in-depth reporting on Rio, and particular things such as pollution and how derelict the IOC is as an organization.
NBC needs to prove to they are willing to call out the IOC when warranted—beyond a pro forma reference. Says Lazarus: “Should they be skeptical? I think they should question and they have a right to question but I think if they go back and look at the history and look at Bob [Costas]’s interview with [IOC President] Thomas Bach and look at the discussions we had around the uprising in the Ukraine prior to Russia invading Crimea, I think we have proven that we will talk about the issues and will talk to the IOC about ongoing issues.”
How many NBC employees are working the Olympics?
NBC has 2,500 employees in Rio and 1,100 at its broadcast center in Stamford, Ct. Lazarus said the amount of people who asked not to go to Brazil was less than 10 employees. They asked off for multiple reasons related to Rio. “We said of course, re-assigned them to work in Stamford, and then someone else got to go to Rio,” Lazarus said.
Is there an under-the-radar sport that might break out?
Lazarus said he is excited to watch water polo. “I think most people do not have an appreciation for how physical it is and how strong and big these athletes are,” Lazarus said. “I think the technology and windowing with underwater cameras allows people to see the physicality of it. It will people’s capture imagination.”
There are a number of Top 10 golfers who have opted not to compete. Is NBC worried about declining interest in Olympic golf?
“It’s surprising and disappointing that so many male golfers have decided not to participate and that is a distinction that male golfers have vis-a-vis any other athletes participating in the Games,” Lazarus said. “I think these gentlemen will look back and say they wish they had participated. As for the impact on us there will be 60 male golfers and many of the Top 30 will be there and we expect a great competition.”
How much political talk about Rio de Janeiro can we expect during event coverage?
“Our role really is not to get into the geo politics really as much as to focus on what are the viewers experiencing at home,” says NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell. “And from that standpoint, by every definition, Rio is a home run. It is one of the most telegenic cities in the world. The venues are done. We have people on the grounds reporting back wonderful things. I guess one issue pertaining to the competition that we’re keeping an eye on is the water in the bay and its potential impact on the sailing competition. They have had several test events there. It has not been an issue so far. We don’t expect it to be an issue. But it was a promise that was made that it would be clean. It’s a promise that has not been kept. But otherwise everything else really looks great. I think we are used to at this stage, prior to an Olympics, for the focus to be on some of the other issues and stories away from the Games and the athletes that will start to turn now as we get closer to the Games.”
Are the Olympics in the end still a worthy endeavor?
If you watched the HBO Real Sports expose on the IOC this month, you have to question whether the Olympics have run its course in this form given how damaging the Games have been to countries both prior and after the fact. You will not find such talk at NBC. “I believe this is an event that brings the world together for a good purpose,” says Lazarus. “But I also am a realist and I understand if someone from another country were to go to Dallas or Minneapolis or [Baton Rouge] Louisiana [Lazarus was interviewed shortly after the high-profile deaths in those cities], they would say, “Why would anyone go there?” We are not immune to bad things happening or unrest here and it’s unfortunate and sad. I think the Olympics help bring the world together so I am unwavering in my belief.”
What was the most impressive technological thing you’ve seen related to the Olympics?
Comcast’s X1 set top boxes offer access to all of the Olympic networks plus 40 simultaneous streams, and video on demand options. It’s one of the coolest sports portals I’ve seen, with search capability to watch the Olympics in remarkable ways.
Costas recently discussed with SI where he stands on hosting future Olympics. What do his bosses say?
“We stand in the same place,” Lazarus said. “Bob and I talk after each games and decide if he wants to continue doing it. If not, we have a great roster of talent here and we will decide who we think is best to sit in that seat. Do I believe the successor is in-house? I hope it is.”