EXCLUSIVE: Rebecca Lowe is returning to the Olympics for NBC next year in South Korea. Heading into her third Olympics for the Comcast-owned network and her second Winter Games, the host of NBC Sports Network’s Premier League soccer coverage will be handling daytime coverage of the PyeongChang competition from the International Broadcast Center.
“It’s going to be a complicated situation with the time difference but we’re going to get some really good athletes coming on,” Lowe says. “We’re going to have some top-class sporting action.”
As announced in February, Mike Tirico will be fronting NBC’s primetime coverage, taking over from longtime host Bob Costas. With 176 hours of the Olympics scheduled for NBC alone out of 2,400 hours altogether, primetime coverage of the February 9- 25 Winter Games will be live for the very first time across all time zones. Overall, the PyeongChang Games will be shown on NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, USA Network, NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app. Things will actually kick things off on NBC the day before the Opening Ceremony in primetime on February 8 with figure skating.
Along with Tirico and Lowe, Liam McHugh, Carolyn Manno, Ahmed Fareed and Fred Roggin will be filling out the NBC Sports team, I’ve learned. McHugh will handle primetime and late night on NBCSN, while Manno is in place for the late-night and morning hosting shift on the outlet. Taking the baton from Manno, Fareed will host daytime NBCSN coverage, and Roggin will deliver the curling coverage on CNBC.
NBC has not announced its announcing team for the network’s coverage of the Opening Ceremony that kicks off the Olympics on February 9. For NBC’s Rio Summer Olympics coverage, Today anchors Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie hosted along with Meredith Vieira. It was Lauer’s 11th Olympics repping the morning show, and certainly his last. He was fired Wednesday by NBC News amid allegations of sexual assault.
Before Lauer’s termination, I chatted with Lowe about tackling her third Olympics, the challenges and anticipations, and this past weekend’s inaugural Premier League Fan Fest in NYC. NBC Sports would not make Lowe available for a follow-up to address the Lauer matter.
DEADLINE: So, this is going to be your third Olympics for NBC. As a seasoned vet now and going forward at least one more Summer Games likely, what beyond institutional memory, will you be bringing to the daytime coverage of PyeongChang next year?
LOWE: I think I’ll be bringing a deep commitment to the project. I mean, I love my football and that’s my absolute passion but it’s not my only passion. What I love more than anything is interviewing. That’s something that I love to do and something that I don’t get to do that much. When I talk to Robbie Earle and Kyle Martino on air it’s less interviewing and broadcasting. I used to do a lot more interviewing back in England. I miss that.
DEADLINE: How will that factor into your approach this time round when things officially kickoff for you on February 10?
LOWE: Well, when I can sit on the sofa and talk to the figure skaters and the Alpine skiers and the Mikaela Shiffrins of this world and the Jason Browns and these kinds of people that’s what I love and that’s what I’m excited for in South Korea. The daytime role will be great. It’s going to be a complicated situation with the time difference but we’re going to get some really good athletes coming on. We’re going to have some top class sporting action.
What I loved doing last time around just meeting these people who have to sacrifice everything to get up at 4 AM to go down the louge every day and nobody takes any notice of them for a while. Then they get to the Olympics and then we all want a bit of them. I love getting close to these normal people who are suddenly these stars and hearing their stories.
DEADLINE: In that vein, does it differ for you from what you do heading the Premier League coverage every weekend on NBC Sports Network?
LOWE: It’s obviously something that I don’t dabble in other times of the year so I have to really get my prep right. I have to get into these stories. I have to know everything there is to know and that’s a great discipline for me and I love throwing myself into something like that and making my whole life about that specific thing for a certain amount of time. I’m excited about just absorbing myself into it.
DEADLINE: With 176 hours of Olympics coverage coming from NBC itself over the 18 days and more than 2,000 hours from the various other parts of the NBC universe, including two hours a day in daytime in the week and three hours on the weekends for you directly, when does the prep start for you?
LOWE: (laughs) The prep for winter Olympics has already started Dominic. I have a researcher who sends me manuals on every single sport as they’re being completed. I have news updates sent to my inbox most days so my inbox right now is packed and I have a plan. I’m a bit of a type A organized freak.
So, I do all the reading as it comes in and then come December and January on my days off from the Premier League, I’m going to start my at-home preparation, I will use when my little boy is having his nap as a great time to really start. I do my two hours of prep then, every day. I do a lot of it and I probably do too much. I know I do and I’ve always been that kind of person. My dad has always instilled that in me the do too much because that keeps you safe.
DEADLINE: Sounds right to me. I’m a firm believer you can’t do too much or be too prepared. It gives you the room to really think on your feet in the moment when the moment comes.
LOWE: Then you and I are on the same page. That kind of over prep makes me feel safe because things go wrong in live TV and things go wrong in pre-recorded TV. I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I’ve not done my homework.
I will go to South Korea knowing far too much about the biathlon but I’m happy with that and I’m okay with that and it’s a lot of reading. We have a 150-page manual on Alpine skiing and I’ll read the whole of that. What I do is as I’m going through I’ll take out bits that I think I need.
DEADLINE: To what end, besides the immediate?
LOWE: As the host of the daytime show I’m going to need big storylines. Like, who are the big names, what are the rules of the sport, and what’s the history of this or that? Those are the three things that I need to know. So I do that for every single sport, even if we’re not showing it. Just in case one day there’s some incident that happens and they change the schedule and suddenly I’m thrown into curling and I need to know. That’s what I will do and it starts now and it will get more and more until I leave in February.
DEADLINE: With the changes NBC has brought in this time round, like primetime coverage being live across all the American time zones for the first time in the Winter Olympics, it looks like there were some lessons learned from the demo lows of Sochi in 2014. It obviously remains to be seen what affect they will have, but from your perspective how much of a concern are ratings out of PyeongChang?
LOWE: Honestly, It’s a concern for me because it’s a concern for the company I work for. Of course, NBC has ratings as a priority but from my perspective I want to do a show that people watch so it’s not so much about numbers for me. It’s about producing good, quality television and if you do that you’ll get the numbers.
Obviously being on from 3 to 5 on a weekday across the US and 3 to 6 on the weekend across the U.S, it is a country that has hundreds of millions of people, you’re going to get the ratings but you mustn’t take that for granted. What I want to do is get the extra people interested in something that I believe is worth two or three hours of their time every day, you have to give them a really good quality product. That’s my overall aim and I believe that ratings follow as long as you’re producing good TV.
DEADLINE: So besides being on top of dozens of sports and aiming for that TV Gold that will get the numbers, where does football or soccer rate in all this for you going into the Winter Olympics?
LOWE: Really I think taking time out of Premier League season will always a tricky balance for me because while I’m in South Korea I’ll need to try and keep up with the Premier League. You know, for once I come out of that bubble in South Korea, and by the way it is the biggest bubble ever. Your whole life is dedicated to that one event. It’s a bit like going to the World Cup or the European Championship or something like that but that’s all you live for day to day. So, I’ll have to keep in touch with my day job because when I come back I go straight back to Premier League. So that’s going to be a balance.
Partially because one of the things that I think about the Olympics and I think about NBC too is the scale of this operation, which for the last two that I’ve been to just floors me every time. I mean the fact that there are people out there now who’ve been planning this for ages. The fact they’re already planning Tokyo 2020. The operation, the scale of what they do as a company is something I’ve never seen before and I’ve worked for the BBC and the BBC are the biggest broadcast company in the UK and they do things very, very well. However, NBC is on another planet.
DEADLINE: Let’s talk about one aspect of that planet that you’ll be heading up this weekend and after PyeongChang and until 2022 at least, which is the Premier League on NBC and NBCSN. Almost as testament to how watched football or soccer is now in America, you guys along with one of the Men In Blazers and others, just had your very first Fan Fest in NYC on November 25. It was invite-only and pretty low key in terms of promotion but clearly a success – so will this become an annual event, open to all?
LOWE: I hope so. We’ll at least try things once and see how well they go down. I think from an overall perspective it was a great success, so I’d like to think we’d do it again. Who knows, maybe.
I’d love nothing more than to get out there and meet up with more fans because as you well know there are tons across the States, not just New York City. They’re everywhere in every possible corner now. The Fan Fest was a great success. It was really good fun and it made me realize how massive this sport is and how massive this league is. You can’t always sense that when you’re in a very nice studio in Connecticut.
— NBC Sports PR (@NBCSportsPR) November 25, 2017