Mark Hallinger, editor of TV Technology
Europe and Asia/Pacific editions, was in
Sochi covering NBC for two weeks. He sat
down with David Mazza, senior vice president
and chief technology officer for NBC Sports Group and NBC
Olympics just the before Closing Ceremonies
to find out how this latest stop in NBC’s
long Olympics journey went.
TV TECHNOLOGY: In the past we’ve
talked about Olympics 1.0, 2.0 and so on…
what was Sochi?
MAZZA: I think I once told you we were
Olympics 2.0; we might have even said we
were 3.0. I would say we are more evolutionary
now, so we are probably on a ‘point release.’
But the interesting thing is we come out
of every games with lessons learned. We
come out of every games with a few things
we say we’re never going to do that again.
And then we adjust accordingly
But then you get to the next games, and
some of the conditions are so different, like
they were in Russia. A lot of your consistency
from one games to the next, when you were
perfecting something—it took a whole left
turn because you hit a totally new problem
that was standing in the way of success. It
might have been power stability, construction,
logistics or security. In some cases it is
as basic as drainage or snow removal in the
compounds. Many times the problems are
not what you think they are going to be.
It might have been the rodent eating
through the cables up at Alpine. The first
fibre we ran to the top of the hill, some sort
of rodent ate through it in three or four different
spots. We had to order new Kevlar-based
fiber, which apparently they can still
chew through, but they don’t like the taste
of it, or the texture. We waited to put that in
at the last minute.
TVT: What was the hardest part about this
Olympics? Was it the delayed construction?
Yes, it was the timelines across
the board, and trying to gain access due to
logistics and security. The problem is, we’ve
refined our schedules over the years… we
know exactly how much time is required.
And we’ve trimmed and trimmed and
trimmed to be more efficient.
We knew we would run into some things,
so we did loosen the schedules up. But we
probably didn’t loosen it up enough. Having
said that, when we finally did get into
the International Broadcast Centre, everybody
worked at warp speed. And by Christmas,
we really were caught up to where we
would have normally been. So that meant the
month of January went way better than we
had been anticipating.
Knowing it was going to be tough on the
ground [in Sochi], we did a lot more testing
and prefabbing before we left home. And
we shipped earlier so we were sure that we
could get through customs. The Sony integration
guys had been prefabbing a lot of the
equipment that we would typically do onsite,
and that saved us a tremendous amount
TVT: There were substantially more hours
of broadcast coverage this time versus Vancouver
(2010). Was staffing—including back
MAZZA: As far as cost is concerned, we
don’t really count the guys at home the
same way, because a lot of them are staff
and they’re sleeping at home—so the overall
expenses and T&E are lower. Certainly, they
are counted when we think about what I
call “people per produced hour.” But where
the people versus hours equation looks very
favorable is with all the digital content; all
the new media. Because there’s just far fewer
people working on all that, by design, than
there are on the big broadcast shows.
It’s obviously consistent with the audience.
For Friday’s Opening Ceremonies
coverage, 50 million people watched it on
TV or cable. But online, I don’t know; I think
two million people were watching the hockey
game, [and that’s] a really big live stream.
The audiences are just very different sizes,
and we have to keep the people working on
those somewhat consistent with that.
TVT: And the term “new media” you just used
has actually been put out to pasture?
MAZZA: Yes, we don’t call it new media
now; we call it “digital.” And it’s such a misnomer;
everything we’ve done in broadcasting
has been digital since 1998. But it wasn’t necessarily
digital files; it was digital video.
TVT: This is the first Olympics with the Stamford
facility fully operational.
MAZZA: Yes. The amazing thing about that
place is that the Stamford construction did
not start in earnest until February 2012, and
our first studio went on air Dec. 4, 2012. In
between those dates we were gone for four
months, doing the London Olympics.
TVT: And the Stamford NBC Sports Channel
facility is integral to the future?
MAZZA: Yes, it is. What’s kind of cool about
this is we built the place to be able to have
big parts of it switched back and forth between
50 and 60 Hz reference. Three of the
control rooms [in Stamford] and two-thirds
of the EVS rooms and the edit system were
running 50 Hz. And that saved us a lot of standards
conversion until the very final product
was ready for transmission.