Olympics on NBC

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NBC Sports' coverage of the Olympic Games consists of broadcasts on the various networks of NBCUniversal in the United States, including the NBC broadcast network, Spanish language network Telemundo, and many of the company's cable networks.

The telecasts during the Olympics run primarily in the evening and weekend afternoons on NBC, with varying times on the other networks (after the close of the stock market day on CNBC for instance, the early mornings on MSNBC, and overnights on the USA Network). The USA Network broadcasts were later transferred to the new NBC Sports Network, beginning with the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The on-air title of the telecasts, as typically announced at the start of each broadcast and during sponsor billboards, is always the official name of the games in question, e.g. The Games of the XXIX Olympiad for the 2008 summer games. However, promotional logos may reflect the more common location-and-year name format, e.g. "Beijing 2008".

NBC has held the American broadcasting rights of the Summer Olympic Games since the 1988 games and the broadcasting rights to the Winter Olympic Games since the 2002 games. In 2011, NBC agreed to a $4.38 billion contract with the International Olympic Committee to broadcast the Olympics through the 2020 games, the most expensive television rights deal in Olympic history.[1] On May 7, 2014, NBC agreed to a $7.75 billion contract extension to air the games through 2032 Olympics.[2]

NBC also acquired the American rights to the Youth Olympic Games, beginning in 2014,[3] and the Paralympic Games for the 2014 and 2016 editions.[4]


Early coverage[edit]

1964 Summer Olympics[edit]

NBC made their Olympic television debut when they showed the 1964 Summer Olympics from Tokyo. They did this with the aid of the Syncom 3 satellite for direct broadcasts. When NBC televised the opening ceremonies of the 1964 Summer Olympics, it was the first color broadcast televised live via satellite.[5]

The Olympic competition itself was broadcast in black-and-white. Thanks to the Syncom 3 satellite, a daily highlights package could be seen a few hours after the events took place; otherwise, film canisters were flown across the Pacific Ocean and were broadcast to American viewers the following day.[6]

Serving as anchor was Bill Henry, then NBC News Tokyo bureau chief, who had extensive experience in both print and broadcast news. Play-by-play commentators included Bud Palmer and Jim Simpson.

1972 Winter Olympics[edit]

Meanwhile, NBC first televised the Winter Olympic Games in 1972.[7] Anchored by Curt Gowdy, much of the coverage actually was broadcast live since alpine skiing and long track speed skating were held in the morning, which translated to prime-time on the U.S. East Coast.

A young sportscaster making his network television debut at Sapporo was a 26-year-old Al Michaels, who did play-by-play of hockey. Eight years later, he would call the famous 1980 "Miracle On Ice" at that year's Winter Games in Lake Placid for ABC Sports.

1980 Summer Olympic boycott[edit]

NBC had won the U.S. broadcast rights for the 1980 Summer Olympics, but when the United States Olympic Committee kept U.S. athletes home to honor the boycott announced by President Jimmy Carter, the telecasts were greatly scaled back. In the end, what had been 150 hours of scheduled coverage, shrunk to just a few hours. Highlights were fed to local NBC stations for use on local newscasts. Many affiliates, however, refused to show the Olympic highlights on their local news or clear airtime for the few hours of coverage NBC did present.

NBC's extensive coverage was canceled before a prime time anchor had been named; it was said that Nightly News anchorman John Chancellor (a former NBC Moscow bureau chief), along with sportscasters Bryant Gumbel[8][9] and Dick Enberg, were reportedly being considered for the prime time studio host role.

1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul[edit]

NBC then bid for, and won, the rights to show the 1988 Summer Olympics. Network officials convinced the organizers in Seoul to stage most of its gold-medal finals in the afternoon, which is prime time of the previous night in the U.S. The Today Show's Bryant Gumbel was the prime time host[10] that year; Bob Costas hosted the late-night show while Jane Pauley was one of the hosts of early-morning coverage.

Gumbel and Dick Enberg were co-hosts for the opening and closing ceremonies.

A curious result was that, since in the United States, the 1988 NFL season had just started, NBC would plug the holes (primarily play-by-play broadcasters) with well-known older broadcasters such as Curt Gowdy, Ray Scott and Merle Harmon, among others.

Breaking news and 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympics[edit]

Just as his mentor Roone Arledge had before over at ABC, Dick Ebersol, who took over NBC Sports in 1989, decided to make the Olympics a staple of his network's sports television schedule. NBC continued its Summer Games coverage into the next decade, with both the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona and the 1996 Summer Games[11][12] in Atlanta. And as with Arledge (who had to deal with the Munich massacre during the 1972 Summer Games), Ebersol had to deal with breaking news during the Games. During the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in 1996, NBC suspended its coverage of a volleyball game and broadcast the news for several hours commercial-free. Bob Costas, late night anchor during the 1988 Seoul Olympics, made his debut as prime time host in 1992.

Cable and satellite services become involved[edit]

To help offset the increasing costs of broadcast rights, NBC turned to cable and satellite services for additional coverage. In 1992, NBC teamed up with Cablevision for the Triplecast, which provided three channels of pay-per-view telecasts that supplemented NBC's regular coverage. However, NBC lost over $100 million, the package was dropped, and there was no supplemental coverage from Atlanta.


Coverage in the 2000s revolved around two major storylines:

  • NBC became the sole U.S. rights holder for the Olympic Games for the entire decade. The network could rightly boast of being "America's Olympic Network" as it made the longest and most expensive commitment ever since the Olympics were first presented on TV. For the 1996 Summer Games, and all Games from 2000 to 2008, NBC paid a total of $3.5 billion, mostly to the International Olympic Committee but also to the USOC and local organizers. In 2006, NBC paid another $2.2 billion to purchase the rights to the 2010 Winter Olympics and 2012 Summer Olympics[13] but lost $223 million on the 2010 broadcasts.[14]
  • The rise of various media platforms extended the reach and availability of Games coverage. NBC returned to supplemental cable/satellite coverage in 2000, with some events on CNBC and MSNBC; traditionally CNBC has mainly aired coverage of the boxing events. In 2004, it added USA Network, Bravo, and Telemundo, all of which parent company NBC Universal had acquired earlier in the decade. In 2006, Universal HD was added to the list of channels carrying the Games. Finally, in 2008, events were streamed live for the first time on the Internet through the website NBCOlympics.com (Also in 2008, Oxygen replaced Bravo as a supplemental network, and NBC launched high-definition channels dedicated to the basketball and soccer competitions). The 2010 Games debuted digital subchannel Universal Sports carrying analysis programs about events, while Oxygen and Bravo were completely excluded to maintain their schedules.

Comcast acquisition of NBC: 2011-present[edit]

In 2011, Comcast acquired NBC's parent company; on June 6, 2011, NBCUniversal announced that it had won the television rights for the 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020 Olympics, beating out ESPN/ABC and Fox. The entire package for the rights was $4.38 billion, making it the most expensive television rights deal in Olympic history. NBC paid $775 million for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and $1.23 billion for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Also NBC paid $963 million for the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea and $1.45 billion for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

In response to criticism from previous Games, NBC also announced that beginning in 2012, it planned to broadcast all events live through either television or digital platforms. Additionally, the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN; formerly Versus, which became a part of NBC Sports following the acquisition) also added coverage of the Games beginning in London, with an emphasis on team sports.[1][15][16] NBCSN became the highlighted cable network for coverage, replacing both USA Network, which would maintain their regular entertainment schedule during the game. The 2012 Summer Games also saw Universal HD removed from coverage. Bravo aired supplemental coverage (mainly the tennis tourney) in place of Oxygen, with Universal Sports again solely analysis-only and pay-TV providers again carrying dedicated HD basketball and soccer networks.

2014's Winter Games again saw NBCSN as the highlight cable network, though the cable networks of NBC had additional complications due to NBC's weekend coverage of the Premier League, which usually airs on NBCSN but was instead moved to USA Network due to the Games, and some Games coverage usually seen on CNBC replaced with the first night of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show because of the yearly conflict with USA's WWE Monday Night Raw. A new online-network called "Gold Zone", which features rolling coverage of events in the style of NFL Network's RedZone Channel and ESPN Goal Line, also came online for coverage of the Games.

Local coverage[edit]

Since the 2006 Winter Olympics, local affiliates have often aired a half-hour program preceding prime time coverage called The Olympic Zone, which features a mix of locally-produced Olympian profiles and content mixed with promotional materials and stories from NBC's affiliate news service. The program is modeled on a similar program, O-Zone, that aired on KCRA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Sacramento, California, during the 2004 Summer Olympics.[17][18]

Hours of coverage[edit]

Year Host Hours of Coverage Main article
1964 Summer Tokyo, Japan 45 minutes daily and 12 hours overall.[19]
1972 Winter Sapporo, Japan 37[19]
1980 Summer Moscow, Soviet Union primarily highlights (6 hours of highlights)[19]
1988 Summer Seoul, South Korea 179.5[20]
1992 Summer Barcelona, Spain 161[21] + 1080 on Triplecast[22]
1996 Summer Atlanta, United States 171[23]
2000 Summer Sydney, Australia 441.5[23]
2002 Winter Salt Lake City, United States 375.5[24][25]
2004 Summer Athens, Greece 1210[23][26]
2006 Winter Torino, Italy 416[24][27]
2008 Summer Beijing, China 3600[20] 2008 Summer Olympics on NBC
2010 Winter Vancouver, Canada 835[28]
2012 Summer London, United Kingdom 5535[29]
2014 Winter Sochi, Russia 1539[30]

Traditionally, NBC has primarily televised marquee sports in its Olympic coverage. When the network added coverage on its cable partners in 2000, it allowed them to televise other sports. 2004 marked the first year that they televised all 28 sports in the Summer Games.[31] In 2008, aided with online streaming, NBC aired many of the events held at the summer games live.



The main theme of the Olympic coverage is "Bugler's Dream," composed by Leo Arnaud. It debuted on ABC in 1964 for that year's Winter Games in Innsbruck, was used for all ten Olympics carried by that network, and was first used by NBC in 1992, when NBC bought the performance rights and commissioned its own version. Other songs used on NBC include compositions from John Williams (including "Olympic Fanfare and Theme",[32] "The Olympic Spirit",[33] "Summon the Heroes",[34] and "Call of the Champions"), David Arkenstone, and John Tesh (whose "Roundball Rock", best remembered as the theme for NBC's NBA coverage during the 1990s and early 2000s, was added to the basketball coverage in 2008). During the announcements of upcoming events, NBC has used the Randy Edelman composed theme song from the short-lived Fox TV series The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr..[35] The theme was also used for NBC's Major League Baseball coverage from the start of the 1996 postseason through the 1998 All-Star Game.


Tape delay[edit]

NBC has been regularly criticized for its tape delayed coverage. In 1992, Terry O'Neil, then-executive producer of NBC Sports, coined the phrase "plausibly live" to describe their practice of making the taped broadcasts appear as if they were being aired live.[36] However, because of the way it has editing and broadcast its tape delayed coverage, as oppose to airing most events live and largely unedited, NBC has been accused of treating the Olympics more as reality television than a news or sports event.[37][38]

At the 2000 Summer Olympics, every event on NBC and its cable channels was shown on a tape delay due to the time difference between the United States and Sydney, with the exception of the Men's Gold Medal basketball game.[39][40]

2010 Winter Olympics[edit]

Despite the 2010 Winter Olympics being held in Vancouver, three hours behind New York, and in all of their previous Olympic coverages, NBC delayed the broadcast of high-profile events held during the day to air in prime time. As a result, almost none of the popular alpine events were shown live.[41] NBC executives said this is done because they see better Nielsen ratings with coverage in the evening hours. Nevertheless, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver were assumed to be a financial disaster for NBC, as the network was expected to lose about $200 million after overpaying for broadcasting rights.[42]

This tape delay practice, even for major events, became increasingly frustrating with viewers, especially with the increased usage of social networking and Web sites (including the official Vancouver 2010 site and NBC's Olympic website) posting results in real time.[43] This especially held true for viewers in the Pacific, Mountain, Hawaii, and Alaska time zones, where events were delayed even further by three to six hours or more.[44] It was particularly frustrating for those in the Pacific time zone, as Vancouver not only lies in the Pacific time zone, but is in extremely close proximity to the United States - just north of the United States border (one can drive from Seattle, WA to Vancouver, BC in approximately 2.5 hours), yet events were still tape delayed.

As a result, these practices has spawned outrage across the internet and even raising concerns from politicians.[45] This controversy in Vancouver came mere days following the controversial resolution of the 2010 Tonight Show host and timeslot conflict, which further damaged NBC's already broken image.[46]

In the past, American viewers who lived close to the Canadian border were able to get around waiting for NBC to air an event by watching Olympic coverage on CBC Television. However, rights to the 2010 games in Canada moved over to CTV, which was not available on many northern U.S. cable systems due to primetime program redundancy with the American networks.[47]

2012 Summer Olympics[edit]

At the 2012 Summer Olympics, NBC offered all events live on their Olympics website, which provided the opportunity to see all events live powered by YouTube.[48] NBC also used a mixture of live coverage and tape delay for their television broadcast due to London being 5 hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone. Events contested earlier in the day were able to be shown live on one of the Universal networks.

However, events that traditionally draw better ratings, such as swimming, artistic gymnastics, and track and field, were still tape delayed and aired during prime time on NBC. Those events drew their traditionally high ratings, but arguments were lodged about not having the option to watch these events live on television.

Furthermore, members of the U.S. Military were forced to watch the delayed NBC feed despite being within a few hours of the time zones of the event. American Forces Network was contractually hindered by Department of Defense regulations only allowing American feeds of broadcasts to ensure a feel of the broadcast that could be had in the USA. Additionally, AFN had an agreement with the International Olympic Committee and NBC to only use NBC feeds of the event. Many soldiers in Europe felt slighted by the delays, given comparable local country stations aired the Olympics live on public TV feeds as some events aired late at night or early in the morning on AFN.[49]

In a Gallup poll held during the 2012 Olympics, many indicated that they did not mind the tape delaying for the nighttime window. However, the complaint lodged by the subjects in the poll was that NBC should show the events live on one of their networks, as well as show it in prime time on NBC.[50]

2014 Winter Olympics[edit]

For their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics, NBC streamed every competition live. However, only existing cable and satellite customers, specifically subscribing to packages that include NBC's sister cable networks (under the TV Everywhere initiative, which is marketed by NBC-owned cable networks as of January 2015 under the "TV Without the TV" banner), could access the service.[51][52] The Canadian Press reported that frustrated viewers were purchasing VPN services to access Canadian IP addresses so they could stream CBC Sports' live coverage instead (which is normally free for those in Canada).[53]

This time, some events that traditionally draw better ratings were first aired live on one of NBC's sister cable networks like NBCSN, and then a tape delayed version was broadcast on NBC in primetime. For coverage of the popular figure skating events, there were two sets of commentators: Terry Gannon, Tara Lipinski, and Johnny Weir announced NBCSN's live broadcast; and Tom Hammond, Scott Hamilton, and Sandra Bezic anchored the tape-delayed coverage on NBC. Invariably, comparisons were made between the two announcing teams.[54]

NBC was criticized over the way its tape-delayed primetime coverage handled the news of Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko's withdrawal from competition due to injury. Hours after he announced his withdrawal, NBC continued to air promotions for its primetime show still stating that he would skate in the event.[55][56]

Opening and closing ceremonies[edit]

2010 Closing Ceremony[edit]

During the closing ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics, NBC went into an intermission of coverage at the end of the cultural section at 10:30 pm EST, to broadcast the debut of The Marriage Ref, and broadcast the remaining portion of the ceremonies on tape delay at 11:35 pm EST after late local news.[57] This spawned outbursts from upset viewers, especially on Twitter.[58]

During the remaining portion after the "intermission", several performances including Francophone Quebec singer, Garou, were not shown at all even though several other countries broadcast the performance in full. In the US three minutes of commercials were shown in place of his performance.[59] He sang "Un peu plus haut, un peu plus loin" (A Little Higher, A Little Further),[60] written by Jean-Pierre Ferland.

2012 Opening Ceremony[edit]

NBC faced a barrage of criticism following its broadcast of the 2012 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony.

British news media lambasted the American television network, calling NBC's decision to cut a tribute to the victims of the 7 July 2005 London bombings an "outrage."[61] In response to the criticism, NBC spokesman Greg Hughes said, "Our programming is tailored for the U.S. audience. It's a tribute to (opening ceremony producer) Danny Boyle that it required so little editing."[62]

The commentary - particularly that of Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer - was also criticized as "ignorant" and "banal". They admitted to not knowing who World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee was, and described Madagascar as "a country associated with a few animated movies". Australia was introduced as a former penal colony, and a joke about the former despotic dictator, Idi Amin, was used to describe Uganda by Bob Costas. Kazakhstan was introduced with comments about the March 2012 incident at the H.H. The Amir of Kuwait International Shooting Grand Prix in Kuwait, in which the mock Kazakhstan anthem from the film Borat was mistakenly played for gold medallist Maria Dmitrenko, and another eastern European country introduced as having no chance of winning medals in this Olympics.[63][64][65][66][67]

NBC also found itself on the defensive over its tape-delayed broadcast of the Opening Ceremony. American viewers took to Twitter to express their dismay at having to wait three and a half hours (six and a half hours in the Pacific Time Zone) to see the opening event of the London Olympics.[68] Most of the Twitter posts centered around NBC not offering online streaming of the Opening Ceremonies for U.S. viewers who wanted to watch the event live.[69] Americans were forced to watch either BBC or CTV online streams of the ceremonies if they elected to watch it live. These failings were picked up during the NBC broadcast by users of Twitter with the hashtag #nbcfail.[70]

NBC spokesman Christopher McCloskey said, in a statement, "It was never our intent to live stream the Opening Ceremony or Closing Ceremony. They are complex entertainment spectacles that do not translate well online because they require context, which our award-winning production team will provide for the large prime-time audiences that gather together to watch them."[71] McCloskey's statement was roundly ridiculed by media observers and Olympics enthusiasts.[72]

Despite these issues, the Nielsen ratings for the coverage set a record for an Olympics held outside of the United States. The ceremonies drew a 23.0 rating, which was a 7% increase over the 2008 Opening Ceremony in Beijing.[73]

2012 Closing Ceremony[edit]

Due in part to lingering criticism from social media outlets like Twitter, NBC made a last minute decision to reverse course and stream the Closing Ceremony live on their website.[74]

When aired on television though, the London 2012 Closing Ceremony was heavily edited for time.

London's Olympic closing ceremony had a run time of three hours, eight minutes and ten seconds. NBC's broadcast of the closing ceremony, however, featured more than fifty-one minutes and twenty-three seconds of cuts – 27% of the entire closing ceremony – including delaying broadcast of the final hour in order to insert a fall series preview and local news programs.[75]

The medal ceremony for the men's marathon, a tribute thanking the Olympic volunteers, and musical performances by Muse, Kate Bush and Ray Davies were not shown.[76] NBC interrupted the closing ceremony before The Who took stage to air a sneak preview of the sitcom Animal Practice and late local news. Again, American viewers expressed their dismay using social media.[77] Bob Costas himself criticized the decision when appearing on Conan O'Brien's talk show in September 2012. "So here is the balance NBC has to consider: The Who, 'Animal Practice.' Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend -- monkey in a lab coat. I'm sure you'd be the first to attest, Conan, that when it comes to the tough calls, NBC usually gets 'em right," Costas said, alluding at the end to O'Brien's involvement in the 2010 Tonight Show conflict.[78]

2014 Opening Ceremony[edit]

Ignoring past criticisms, NBC again tape-delayed the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, and refused to broadcast it live on any platform. NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus explained that the delay was so they could "put context to it, with the full pageantry it deserves".[79]

NBC again made cuts during its telecast, including the removal of a segment featuring animatronic versions of the Games' mascots, and a video segment documenting the torch relay. NBC's most significant edits included the removal of the taking of the Olympic oaths, and an entire passage discussing discrimination and equality was removed from IOC President Thomas Bach's speech.[80][81]

2014 Closing Ceremony[edit]

Like in 2012, NBC streamed the 2014 Closing Ceremony live on their website,[82] but also cut several portions during its tape-delayed primetime telecast. This time, NBC decided against interrupting their coverage midway through the ceremony like they did in 2010 and 2012, and instead aired the sneak preview of their new show Growing Up Fisher afterwards at 10:30 pm Eastern Time.[83] However, that meant that NBC only scheduled a two-hour window for their tape-delayed coverage of the ceremony, between a 90-minute documentary on Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan that aired from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm, and the Growing Up Fisher preview.[84]

2012 Paralympics[edit]

Despite the 2012 Summer Paralympics being a breakthrough games for international media coverage, helping significantly boost overall audience shares for British broadcaster Channel 4 and Australia's ABC,[85][86] no Paralympics events were shown live on television in the United States. International Paralympic Committee President Philip Craven criticized North American broadcasters, and NBC specifically, for having fallen behind the times[87] and said in future the International Paralympic Committee would scrutinize broadcast partners more carefully. "If the values fit, we've got a chance. If they don't we'll go somewhere else," he said.[88]

NBC subsequently acquired the rights to the 2014 and 2016 Paralympics in September 2013, and announced plans to air a combined 116 hours of coverage from both Games. Craven praised NBC's decision to devote a relatively larger amount of airtime to future Paralympics, sharing his hope that U.S. audiences would be "as captivated and emotionally enthralled as the billions around the world who tuned in to London 2012 last summer."[89]

2014 Bode Miller Interview[edit]

On February 16, while covering the Winter Olympics in Sochi as a reporter on alpine skiing, former women's silver medalist Christin Cooper received criticism for her interview with Bode Miller after his bronze medal win in the men's super G event. During the post-event interview, as Miller became increasingly emotional, Cooper repeatedly questioned him about his late brother Chelone, who had passed away the previous April at the age of 29, until Miller broke down in tears and was unable to continue the interview. For her pressing of the issue, Cooper was described as having badgered Miller. NBC also received criticism for keeping the cameras on Miller, who sagged on the railing and cried without speaking, for more than a full minute, despite having had several hours in which to edit the footage before airing it.[90][91] Later that evening, Miller tweeted his fans should "be gentle" with Cooper, as it was "not at all her fault," and "she asked the questions every interviewer would have." The following morning on The Today Show, Miller reiterated his support for Cooper, saying, "I have known Christin a long time, and she's a sweetheart of a person. I know she didn't mean to push. I don't think she really anticipated what my reaction was going to be, and I think by the time she realized it, it was too late. I don't blame her at all."[92]

See also[edit]


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