SOCHI -- You will watch because you always watch. This is the only confident prediction regarding the Sochi Games. The Vancouver Olympics drew 190 million television viewers four years ago, confirming once again how our collective remote always points to televised games when national sporting pride is at stake.
So you will watch these Olympics, but the draw for Sochi goes beyond potential athletic achievements. The steady drumbeat of distressing news out of Russia, from corruption to terrorism threats to gay rights issues, has made the run-up to these Games compelling in a joyless way. Then add the initial reviews from Western journalists on Sochi’s facilities and accommodations.
NBCUniversal, naturally, has attempted to present Sochi in the best possible light because they have a lot invested in the product. The company shelled out about $775 million for the U.S. television rights for these games and the Olympics are always an essential driver to promote NBC's morning, primetime and late-night programming as well NBC's cable networks.
How much Olympics will NBC air? The networks of NBC -- and its online offerings -- will telecast 1,539 hours of programming from Sochi, more than the total for Vancouver and Torino combined
"Our plan is pretty straightforward: We're going to deliver the most comprehensive coverage the Winter Olympics have ever had," said NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus.
The breakdown between platforms is as follows: NBC (185 hours), NBCSN (230), MSNBC (45), USA Network (43), CNBC (36) and NBCOlympics.com (1,000 hours online). During the 18 days of the coverage (Feb. 6-23), NBCUniversal will average 85 hours of coverage daily. So good luck sleeping, Ringheads.
Since you're going to need some help navigating through the coverage, we're here to offer this Q&A primer below:
What is the time difference between Sochi and the Eastern United States?
Sochi is nine hours ahead.
I've heard NBC will be airing events prior to the opening ceremony. Is that true?
Indeed, it is. NBC's primetime coverage of the Sochi Games starts Thursday with the debut of snowboard slopestyle (men's and women's). Canada’s Mark McMorris is the presumptive favorite – despite a fractured rib -- with teammates Sebastien Toutant and Maxence Parrott also medal threats.
It's also the debut of team figure skating (the men's short program and pairs short program). U.S. men’s skater Jeremy Abbott will compete tonight as will American pairs team Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir. Women's moguls qualification will also be shown, with defending champion Hannah Kearney of the United States. The Opening Ceremony then comes the next night.
NBC obviously has the ability to turn an Olympic athlete into a megastar off a great performance. Who does the network have its eye on?
Alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin, just 18, has been dubbed by some as the Mozart of ski racing, and NBC desperately wants someone to follow in the footsteps of Lindsey Vonn. Shiffrin is telegenic and the best slalom skier in the world, so I'd expect to see a lot of her. I'd also look for NBC to absolutely squeeze as much airtime as humanly possible out of Lolo Jones, who was given the third and final brakeman spot on the U.S women's bobsled team.
Speedskater Shani Davis, alpine skier Bode Miller and snowboarder Shaun White and -- all returning gold medalists -- will also get a lot of attention. Davis and White are attempting to become the first American men to win titles in the same event at three Olympic Winter Games after earning gold in Turin and Vancouver.
Will every event air live on television?
No. But every event will be available live online for the first time for a Winter Games. Events will be streamed live on NBCOlympics.com and via the NBC Sports Live Extra mobile app (iPhone/iPad/Android). The vast majority of live streaming will only be available to authenticated cable, satellite or telco customers. One important note: The Opening Ceremony will not be streamed online.
Say I want to watch an event on streaming video but I cannot watch it live. Is there some kind of archive after they first air?
NBC says they will restart all of the online feeds for early morning events (U.S. time) each day at 3:00 p.m. ET. That would give people a second opportunity to watch those feeds that are no longer live. After those events run in prime time, the event will be sliced up into highlight form and be available on demand.
The news out of Russia has been awful, from terrorism to gay rights issues. How will NBC Sports handle news coming out of these Games?
The network is talking like a responsible news-gathering entity. We shall see. "We have spent a lot of time thinking about how we're going to cover the news," said Lazarus. "Our partnership with NBC News makes this pretty easy and also a balancing act on how we're going to work. We will cover any social or political issues as they are relevant to the Games from a sports perspective. NBC News will be there in full force with all of its journalists and all of its shows to cover news items. We've been doing this on an ongoing basis, whether it's related to security, or as you've already seen, as it relates to the LGBT situation that is in Russia."
What kind of images can you expect to see from Sochi?
"It's really more about the mountains and the ice and the snow necessarily than the city," said NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell. "The Caucasus Mountains look spectacular, and the coastal cluster nestled there along the Black Sea is visually stunning. So I think Sochi is going to play just fine on television."
So what are the new events debuting in Sochi?
There are 12 new events and a quick primer on each can be found here thanks to my colleague Brian Cazeneuve. There will be 98 gold medals awarded in Sochi.
Figure skating is always one of the most popular events during a Winter Olympics. What do I need to know to watch?
All the figure skating will air live on cable during the day (Eastern Time), with the key performances airing on tape delay on NBC as they have done in previous Olympics. NBCSN is the designated figure skating channel and coverage will begin the morning of Feb. 8 with the team event. The AP reported a separate announcing team will call the live broadcasts on NBCSN, with Olympians Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir providing commentary.
What is the one channel outside of NBC I should keep my eye on?
NBCSN will show 230 total hours of coverage across multiple sports from Sochi, a record for a cable channel. This is the channel with the most comprehensive coverage during the day including complete, live coverage of figure skating. It will also air 16 men's hockey games through the bronze-medal round, including the men's hockey game between the U.S. and Russia on Feb. 15. NBCSN will also have the U.S. and Canada women's hockey game on Feb. 12 and live gold-medal coverage of events in bobsled (Lolo Jones, alert), Nordic combined, cross-country skiing, speedskating and ski jumping. NBCSN will air at least one gold medal final live each day through its 16 days of coverage. Live coverage on NBCSN will begin at 3 a.m. ET and continue for 12 hours on most days.
Give us five must-watch events for the Sochi Games?
Sunday, Feb. 9: Men's Downhill (The competition will air tape-delayed between 7-11 p.m. EST on NBC, but you can watch live online at 2 a.m. EST).
Saturday, Feb. 15: Men's Hockey: (U.S. vs. Russia, 7:30 a.m. EST, NBCSN).
Tuesday, Feb 17: Ice dancing free skate, 10 a.m. EST, NBCSN. (U.S. skaters and world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White battle Vancouver gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.)
Thursday. Feb. 20: Women's Hockey Gold Medal Game (noon-3 PM ET, NBC). This game will air live in all US Time Zones.
Sunday, Feb. 23: Men's Hockey Gold Medal Game (6:30-10 am ET, NBC). This game will air live across all US Time Zones.
How did Team USA do at the last Winter Olympics?
The U.S. won 37 overall medals -- nine gold, 15 silver and 13 bronze. That's also the number of overall medals won by NBC's 84 Olympic commentators (10 gold, 15 silver and 12 bronze).
I've read there is some sort of Red Zone-like Channel?
That would be Gold Zone, which is a streaming channel on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports Live Extra app. [To get Gold Zone, you must be an authenticated cable, satellite, and telco subscribers and register via NBCOlympics.com] The channel will provide more than 100 hours of hosted whip-around coverage of the most popular live action from the Sochi Games. It will stream 7 a.m.-3 p.m. ET on most days (For more info, check out the Sports Video Group writeup of it). "We are stealing a little bit of what the Red Zone is for the NFL, a whip-around show bringing you from event to event, live look-ins and analysis," said Rick Cordella, the general manager of digital media for the NBC Sports Group. "It's serving the fan that doesn't necessarily know where to go. It's saying, 'This is important now, take a look what's happening.'"
The Gold Zone hosts are Andrew Siciliano (who is the host of DirecTV's NFL RedZone channel) and Ryan Burr of The Golf Channel. There's also Olympic Ice, a 30-minute online program featuring highlights and analysis of figure skating will run on days figure skating occurs, each day around 5:30 p.m. ET. Gold medalist Sarah Hughes will serve as an analyst on it, with host Russ Thaler.
How many employees will NBC have in Sochi?
The network will have 2,300 accredited people in Sochi, with most leaving this week for the Games.
How confident is NBC about the security of its employees?
"We have never seen the type of security that we are now seeing in Russia at any prior Olympic Games in terms of the credentialing, surveillance, and amount of resources that have been committed to this area," said NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel, who will work his tenth Olympics with Sochi.
Which broadcasters will I see the most during the Sochi Games?
Olympic warhorse Bob Costas will serve as both NBC's primetime and late night host given the time difference (Sochi is nine hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone in the U.S.). This is the 10th time Costas has hosted Olympic primetime coverage, a record for U.S. broadcasters. Al Michaels will host the daytime show on NBCSN (weekdays) and NBC (weekends). Dan Patrick and Rebecca Lowe will host NBCSN's daytime weekday and weekend coverage. NBC News anchor Lester Holt will host NBC's weekday daytime coverage. Olympic correspondents Ato Boldon, Mary Carillo and Cris Collinsworth will also get plenty of airtime.
Any Twitter follow suggestions?
My former colleague and current NBC Olympics writer Nick Zaccardi has put together a list of more than 200 journalists covering the Sochi Games.
What are the most watched Winter Olympics in history and will these Games top them?
The 1994 Lillehammer Games (aired by CBS) was watched by 204 million people thanks to Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. The Vancouver Olympics ranks second with 190 million total viewers. I think these Olympics will top Vancouver but not Lillehammer.
Yo, media writer guy? You are going to Sochi, right? But I hear you won't be covering media.
This is mostly correct. I'll once again be writing SI.com's Olympic Daily Briefing as I've done for the last couple of Olympics. That starts on Friday night. But I promise at least one media piece on NBC during the coverage, so stay tuned and thanks as always for reading.