LOS ANGELES, BEIJING and STAMFORD, Conn.—February is shaping up to be one for the record books for NBC Sports and NBC Olympics as the network will present both the Winter Olympic Games from Beijing and Super Bowl LVI from SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s going to be a wonderful challenge and an amazing opportunity for all of us,” said Pete Bevacqa, chairman of NBC Sports during a presentation streamed to the media Jan. 19.
From Bevacqa’s point of view, the advantages of producing both “far outweigh” the challenges. Offering advertisers the combined power of the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics is “a great story,” he said.
There will also be marketing advantages of producing both, giving the network’s talent the chance to cross promote the events. “And think about that Sunday [Feb. 13] when we’ll have great Olympic coverage prior to our pre-game show from 8 a.m. to noon," he said. "Then we’ll do everything as we would always do for a Super Bowl…. And then we’ll have that 100 million-plus audience from the Super Bowl, and we’ll segue right into great live Olympic coverage back in Beijing. To me that’s an unbelievably, really unparalleled never-before-seen, one-two punch.”
The NBC Sports facility in Stamford, Conn., will be the hub of coverage for both the Olympics and the Super Bowl. More than 1,000 people will work from the facility on production of the Beijing Games, he said.
Protecting those workers from the pandemic is a priority for NBC Sports, the broadcaster has gained valuable experience working in the COVID era that will serve as a guide during coverage of the Olympics and Super Bowl.
“We’ve gone through this. Rightly or wrongly, for good or for bad, we’ve been dealing with live sports during a pandemic for 18 months, including the Summer Olympics in Tokyo,” said Bevacqa. “This team is tested. This team is ready.”
A Home On Peacock
NBC will leverage a broad portfolio of platforms to present Super Bowl LVI and the Beijing Olympics. Coverage of the Super Bowl will be the 20th for NBC and the fifth as part of its Sunday Night Football package. The game also will be broadcast on Telemundo—the first time on a Spanish language network—and it will be simul-streamed on Peacock, also a first, said Bevacqa.
Peacock also will play the central role for NBC coverage of the Olympics offering viewers a home base to access live and on-demand coverage of individual sports, specific games and athletes. NBC’s experience with presenting the Tokyo Summer Olympics has helped guide the network in evolving the platform.
“I would be the first to admit that we realized that we had to make it easier for the viewer to navigate that, to digest the amount of Olympic content,” he said.
NBC has revamped Peacock’s Olympics navigation tools to make it easy for viewers to find Olympics content, regardless of whether they wish to view on NBC, USA Network or Peacock itself. “I think one of the great things about Peacock is that people will know that that is your safety net, your home for all things Olympics,” he added.
The short time separating coverage of the Summer Games in Tokyo and the Winter Games in Beijing gave NBC the opportunity to examine ways to respond to viewer use of Peacock and ways to improve the platform for coverage of the games, said Molly Solomon, president and executive producer at NBC Olympics Productions.
“We’ve really focused on making the thousands of hours we produce more intuitive—findable,” she said. “How can you make it easy for the viewer to find what they are looking for?”
NBC’s strategy involves three steps: eliminating confusion by making every event available on Peacock; enhancing the customization of the schedule on NBCOlympics.com so viewers can find what they want on the linear, digital and streaming platforms; and presenting more on-screen information with tickers during studio segments to remind viewers of what’s ahead, she said.
Besides Peacock, viewers have a range of platforms to access events. NBC will present daily afternoon coverage, live coverage in primetime and NBC Prime Plus across all time zones. USA Networks will be the primary cable home, offering 24/7 coverage; and CNBC will broadcast its post-market curling show. Live events will also stream on NBCOlympics.com and the network’s sports app.
Winter Olympics Coverage
Coverage of the games, which begins on Feb. 3—the night before the Opening Ceremony—with live coverage of team figure skating, will leverage the most production technology ever deployed at a Winter Olympics, said Solomon.
“These [figure] skaters, both on the men’s and women’s side, are continuing to elevate the sport with quadruple jumps,” she said.
To capture the jumps and offer viewers a greater understanding, NBC Olympics is adding four Super Slow Mo cameras—one in each corner of the rink—bringing the total number of cameras covering figure skating to 22. “That’s really going to help the viewer better understand the rotations on these jumps that determine their scores,” she said. Coverage will also take advantage of StroMotion athlete tracking technology.
(Read more: The TV Technology Behind the Beijing Winter Olympics)
For snowboarding, raw-motion data tracking will be deployed to reveal jump height in the halfpipe, and for coverage of alpine skiing NBC Olympics has added motion sensors to provide greater accuracy in the measurement of wind velocity and skier speed, she said.
The unusual thing about coverage of the Winter Games is the short time the network had between the Summer Games in Tokyo—delayed by a year due to the pandemic—and the start of the Beijing Olympics in February.
Comparing the situation to running two marathons on successive days, Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics said work on next month’s event began in Tokyo.
At the moment, about 250 NBC Olympics personnel are on the ground in Beijing—with more on their way. Many arrived in October and November 2021, which “put us in a really great position” as more arrived this month, he said, speaking from Beijing.
“We have a really sound technical infrastructure built inside the IBC [International Broadcast Center], and now that we are able to move to the venues, our preparations at the venues are underway,” he said.
Zenkel noted that although Beijing has put a closed loop in place—essentially a bubble that isolates Olympics stakeholders and participants from the outside world to guard against the pandemic—the restrictions have not prevented necessary preparations from proceeding.
NBC Sports will lead into its coverage of the Super Bowl with a Hollywood-themed pre-game show hosted by actress Halle Berry. The show will include movie clips of famous football movies, clips from previous Super Bowl games and cameo appearances by Hollywood actors and Super Bowl luminaries, said Fred Gaudelli, executive producer of Sunday Night Football and Super Bowl LVI.
For the game itself, NBC Sports will roll out a graphic look that reflects a Los Angeles flavor. The network’s new graphics package will include virtual elements and leverage unique features of SoFi Stadium.
“We’ll have a brand-new graphics package,” said Gaudelli, “a really cool virtual package.” For the first time, the network will use a Steadicam in combination with the SoFi Stadium’s Infinity Screen scoreboard suspended above the field to display some of its virtual graphics, he said.
When it comes to cameras, Gaudelli declined to say just how many will be used. “We will have added equipment obviously [compared to Sunday Night Football coverage],” he said. “I can’t even tell you the number of cameras right now, not because it is so enormous, but we feel like we shoot a Super Bowl every Sunday night.”
However, Gaudelli will deploy more cameras on the goal lines, more to shoot down the sidelines and additional cameras to shoot down the end lines. “So, the cameras we add for this are really to capture situations,” he said.
“[The added cameras are] more to make sure that there are no unanswered questions. We have all the critical looks, and that’s how we approach the game from the camera standpoint,” said Gaudelli.
“So, we’ll have a nice bag of toys,” he continued. “There’s no question about it. But as you know and I know, it really comes down to how you cover critical moments of the game,” he said. “And while I want to make the game feel like a spectacle, and we will, I’m more concerned about how we are going to cover those critical moments of the game.”
Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.
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