Talk about great timing: Four days after NBC airs Super Bowl LII on February 4, the network will launch its coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics from PyeongChang, South Korea. The last time one of the Big Four broadcast networks aired both events was CBS in 1992, but there was a three-week break between them.
But as NBC spoke at TCA today about the opportunities for enhancing the viewing experience of the February 8-25 Games with VR, 4K and drones plus the fact that the event will air live since South Korea is 16 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time, the elephant in the room was finally addressed: being North Korea.
One TCA reporter asked NBC Olympics Production and Programming President Jim Bell point blank about the looming threat that the Kim Jung-un regime poses, especially since the border is only about 13 hours from PyeongChang, “No doubt there will be a segment on the DMZ, but with how much tension there is over there, how much has the network prepared?” asked the journalist.
“I don’t think you can have any sports event like the Olympics where there isn’t some element of geopolitics,” Bell said. “We had that in Rio with its political upheaval and the Zika virus and the Sochi Olympics [in 2014]. Frankly, it’s been on the Olympics radar from the start of time; Munich 1972. We’re geared up for the Olympics as well as other colleagues at NBC. We’ll work with the IOC; we’ll be safe.”
What if the U.S. government insists it’s unsafe for the nation’s Olympians to travel to the Korean Peninsula if events escalate further? Last week, North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that appears to have the range to reach major U.S. cities.
“Those are all good questions, but what happens is you go down that road and come up with too many ‘What ifs.’ We take them as they come. We had a situation in Rio where the anchor of the Today show announced she wasn’t going because of the Zika virus. But we handled it. We were proactive with our staff, and the people we send to Rio. We’ll do the same thing here as those things happen.”
“Given our experience in the many past Olympics, we’re working with the IOC, the State Department and our security,” Bell said. “We’re going to be fine.”
At the end of the session, an NBC rep said that the Rio Olympics, despite being down in the ratings on linear platforms, “was the most profitable. We were able to monetize this event across different platforms.”