RCL Exclusive

NBC Hosts Change Their Game for 2018 Winter Olympics

Gold medalist Apolo Ohno joins the team while Mike Tirico talks taking over for Bob Costas.

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After years of planning, the 2018 Winter Games, taking place in PyeongChang, South Korea, are now in full swing.

Host network NBC, still recovering from some blistering criticism of their programming efforts at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, has made some changes to their coverage.

In short, they have more platforms with content, more ‘live’ coverage, and some new on-air faces.

One of the biggest outcries about the most recent Olympics, by far, has been that the broadcast of certain events was delayed by NBC – to squeeze them into the net’s primetime show.

And, on top of this, NBC ran two feeds, one on the East Coast and another on the West Coast, meaning competitions and results were further delayed for over half of the U.S., which, in the age of instant tweeting, angered those Olympic fans even further.

At a recent press event, Jim Bell, president of Olympic Programming and Production, said, “Well, the good news is that we’re going to be live across the country this time in primetime.” He means that there will be one primetime feed, airing at be 8 p.m. in the Eastern time zone and 5pm in the West.

For individual events, Bell said that every single one will be available to livestream. He added, “One of the important takeaways from (the Rio Olympics) was that we needed to build out the other platforms In 1996, which isn’t that long ago, the Games were only available on NBC and there were only 170 hours available. Fast forward 20 years, there was nearly 7,000 hours of available coverage in Rio. We put extensive coverage on cable, on NBCSN, MSNBC, USA Network, CNBC and we stream everything live as well.”

Another thing that’s new this year is Mike Tirico hosting that primetime show. He takes over from perennial host Bob Costas, who served as ringmaster for 11 Olympic games.

On opening night, Tirico gave a shoutout to Costas, thanking the latter for his 182 days hosting the Games.

Tirico seems uniquely qualified for his new job because he was actually the recipient of a Bob Costas scholarship while studying at Syracuse University and subsequently has spent a lot of time with Costas. This personal connection with Costas, “has been enriching, rewarding, and has really helped me to prepare for the job,” said Tirico.

He added, “I’ve been fond of saying to people, ‘You follow a Bob Costas. You don’t replace him.’ And I’ll try to do the job in my own style that I’ve been showing to everyone for the last 25 years on TV. The Olympics are special. It’s one of the very few things that still brings the world together for a common goal. And maybe more than ever we need that.”

Also working on-camera at the games is Apolo Ohno. Ohno, who has won the most medals of any U.S. athlete in Winter Olympics history, will be rinkside commenting on the short track speed skating competition.  He last competed in 2010 and served as an analyst at the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014.

Ohno comes to his job with a distinctive knowledge of the sport that Koreans are obsessed with and have been a dominant force in for years. “I was lucky enough to be able to compete against some of the Korean athletes, and live and train there, and see kind of why they are so good,” said Ohno.  “[I’m] excited because I’ve been immersed in the Korean culture.”

For the casual viewer, Ohno explained a bit about the short track speed skating saying, “It’s one of the fastest sports in the world. The athletes go around each corner, carrying about two and a half G’s of force on each leg, which is like the equivalent of 575-pound one-legged squat, repeatedly, over and over. They go 35, 40 miles an hour inside of a hockey rink.”

There was a time when Ohno wasn’t so popular in Korea, he admitted. “I was the second most-hated person in Korea. Number one was Osama Bin Laden. That’s not a joke. They started making toilet paper with my face on it. I did not receive any royalties from that.” He went on to explain, “The 2002 Olympic Games was one that was very closely held to the chest. They came home with zero medals on the men’s side, and they took that very personally.” Ohno says that any animosity toward him by the Korean contingent has now waned.

Another issue discussed was the lack of professional hockey players participating in the Games this go-around. “It does disrupt the NHL season,” explained Bell. “[The team owners] were unable to come to an agreement as they have in the past.” But he says, this could lead to more exciting competition. “we don’t think it’s a terrible thing and, in fact, we could very well see a good storyline developing should some young Americans emerge.”

Tirico jumped in to say, “[This situation] will perhaps create some real estate for the U.S. women’s hockey team, which could become one of the great stories of the Games. So much of Team USA’s strength are the female athletes. Title IX [is] yielding strong women’s teams in so many American sports.”

NBC is using a new bit of technology this time out as well, said Bell. “Drones will be an important part of the coverage. Some of those angles, it takes your breath away to see that visually. We get new angles and push that envelope.”

To do the Games, Tirico, who works primarily calling NFL games for NBC, had to skip this year’s Super Bowl. But, he insists that this is okay with him. “I tell my kids all the time, “Life is a series of trade-offs,” and I feel like I won on that trade.”

The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea run until Sunday, February 25th. For a full schedule and to live stream events, please visit the NBC Olympics site here.