With 10 days left before the delayed and (to many) disquieting Summer Olympics start in Tokyo, NBC Olympics executive producer Molly Solomon and three on-air analysts made the case for staying the course.
“As the world emerges from troubled times, we really believe the Tokyo Olympics will be the most meaningful Olympic Games of our lifetime,” Solomon said during a 30-minute press call. Joining her on the line were NBC Olympics analysts Ato Boldon, Rowdy Gaines and Nastia Liukin.
Initially slated for July 2020, the Games were postponed a year due to Covid-19. While large parts of the world managed to escape the oppressive lockdowns this year, Japan has seen a massive spike in infections as the vaccination rollout proceeds slowly. In response to the conditions, medical experts and other voices called for a postponement. In the end, the International Olympic Committee chose not to risk their billions in broadcast revenues and proceed with the Games. Fans were barred from attending earlier this month as a safety precaution and athletes, officials and media will be kept in bubble environments with extensive testing and safety protocols.
Asked about the opening ceremony on July 23, Solomon said final details are still being worked out in terms of how many athletes march and what the atmosphere will be. Given that Japan has declared a state of emergency and the pandemic is likely to be the main news event at the start of the Games, Solomon said NBCU is prepared. NBC News anchor Lester Holt, she said, will open the primetime broadcast with an update on the situation, as he “As news around any of these issues” related to Covid-19 “comes up, of course we will cover it,” she said.
As to broadcasting the 339 events across a range of venues, sound work will become even more vital in the absence of crowds. The crews controlling the world broadcast feed will introduce ambient and crowd noise into the various Olympic venues, but it’s not clear exactly what viewers at home will hear, Solomon said. “We’re not going to layer on top of that swells of applause or anything like that,” she advised.
Many observers, both in the media and other segments of society in Japan and abroad, have accused the IOC of putting greed before common sense in forging ahead in Tokyo. Asked about that critique, Solomon said, “As the American broadcaster of the Games, we feel that if there’s going to be an Olympic Games, then we’ll be here to chronicle it.” Given the health and safety protocols in place, she added, “we feel that we can safely and responsibly produce these Games.”
A few hours before the press call with Solomon, who is already in Tokyo, her corporate colleagues at Comcast also held a press event to showcase plans across the company’s broadband, TV and digital platforms.
The main advance this time around in presenting 7,000 hours of coverage over two-plus weeks is that Flex, Comcast’s two-year-old video bundle, will carry the Games for the first time. Available free to Xfinity broadband subscribers, Flex is now in more than 3 million households. Similar to Roku and other services, Flex offers a range of video services, most of them free and ad-supported, but also a number of subscription offerings.
Anchoring the Olympics destination on Flex will be all of Peacock’s live and on-demand programming that’s offered at no extra charge for Flex customers. Peacock’s launch in 2020 had been timed to coincide with Tokyo. The NBCU streaming service has attracted about 14 million active monthly users and is on a slower pace than some streaming rivals, though Comcast execs say it is ahead of their internal forecasts. Unlike other outlets, it also has an outsized dependence on advertising.
Peacock’s Olympics hub on Flex includes six themed channels; four live-studio shows; live coverage of gymnastics, track & field and the U.S. Men’s Basketball Team, hundreds of short-form highlights and trending news clips; and several original docuseries and documentaries. Peacock’s programming will be curated alongside other Olympic-related programming from streaming services such as YouTube, HBO Max, Prime Video and more.
X1, Comcast’s predominant pay-TV system, has won points over the years for its interface and integrated experience. With the company – and NBCU – now decades into a long-term Olympics commitment, each Games affords an opportunity to move things forward.
“For years, X1 has set the bar as the most innovative and technologically-advanced Olympics viewing experience. This year, new features make navigating the Games even easier and more personalized, taking the Olympics experience to a new level,” said Rebecca Heap, Senior Vice President, Video and Entertainment Services, Comcast Cable. “And now with Flex, we have the opportunity to leverage some of the best features of X1, like our voice remote and aggregated guide, to introduce the Olympics and all its passion, exhilaration and glory to even more Xfinity customers.”