FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, January 23rd, 2014
2014 OLYMPIC WINTER GAMES CONFERENCE CALL TRANSCRIPT
2014 Olympic Winter Games Conference Call Transcript
Jan. 23, 2014
1 p.m. ET
Chris McCloskey: Thank you everyone for joining us today for our Olympic Conference Call to preview the upcoming 22nd Olympic Winter Games from Sochi, Russia.
Today we’re joined by NBC Olympics Executive Producer Jim Bell, NBCSN Host for the Olympics, Dan Patrick, Olympic Correspondent Mary Carillo and Figure Skating Analyst and Former Gold Medalist Scott Hamilton. In addition, with all the recent news lately, we have also asked NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel to join us so he’ll be on to talk about logistics, construction and security if those questions arise.
This will be NBC’s 14th time broadcasting the Olympics and 8th consecutive, both of which are records. With new events added to the Games this year, these will be the biggest Olympic Winter Games ever from the biggest country in the world and NBC has responded by providing unprecedented coverage with 1539 hours of programming. That’s more than the total for Vancouver and Torino combined and as we have mentioned already, we will be live-streaming all competition, which is a first for a Winter Games.
Due to the new event, NBC’s primetime coverage will actually begin one night prior to the opening ceremony on Thursday, February 6 and our traditional opening ceremony coverage will begin the next night on Friday, February 7.
For a comprehensive press release and coverage of all of our coverage, please go to nbcsportsgrouppressbox.com. We’ll have all of our Olympic news there.
Now let’s begin our call first with opening statements then we’ll go to a Q&A from the press. We’ll begin first with Jim Bell, our Executive Producer.
Jim Bell: Thanks Chris. Thanks everybody. Appreciate you joining us today. I’ll try and be brief so we can get to your questions.
This is going to be my tenth Olympics. I’m thrilled. Two weeks from tonight will be our first primetime show unusually slated a night ahead of the opening ceremony. As Chris mentioned, these are the biggest Winter Olympics ever in the biggest country in the world with added new sports. So big we needed this extra night up ahead of the opening ceremonies so on Thursday, February 6, we’re looking forward to kicking things off.
There will be a bunch of us heading over finally to Sochi after multiple trips there but this time for good. This time it counts — Saturday — and we’re all very much looking forward to it and hoping to hear your questions.
Chris McCloskey: Thank you Jim.
Next up is Dan Patrick.
Dan Patrick: Well this is my fourth Olympics, I got to host in London, and will have the same responsibilities in Sochi. I think the beauty of this, and this is what I found out in London and in Vancouver four years ago, is when you go in planning on somebody and some thing, you’re often surprised. That’s the fun part of this, to introduce the world to a new name or a new event. We have 12 new events. Eight of the 12 in snowboarding and freestyle so that does benefit the United States, but what we did in Vancouver with 37 medals 4 years ago, I’m hoping to replicate that.
I’m excited about the new adventure here and the ability to be able to bring it to NBCSN, the live streaming there, the number of live events that we’re going to have when I’m on the air with Rebecca Lowe and Al Michaels and, of course, trying to complement what Bob Costas does.
I’m ready to start. I leave Saturday right before the Super Bowl and we’ll be there for three weeks and it’ll be unprecedented coverage, so I am excited to be a part of this.
Chris McCloskey: Thank you Dan.
Next up is Mary Carillo.
Mary Carillo: Yes, I’m excited as well. This is my 12th Olympics. I haven’t yet been to Sochi but I’ve spent a lot of time in Russia this past year in places like Irkutsk, Moscow and St. Petersburg a couple of times. I spent two weeks in Siberia, two weeks in Siberia in December when you really want to be there. Actually, three fourths of Russia is Siberia so it was a nice place to do a bunch of stories and features, learning about the culture and the history of this country.
I’m also going to be a correspondent along with Cris Collinsworth, Ato Boldon and Scott Hamilton, who’s also on this phone call, helped me out a lot because I’ve been working in the last several months on doing the 20th Anniversary look back at the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan story. That became such a big deal back in 1994, so a lot to look forward to.
Chris McCloskey: Thank you Mary.
And next up, Olympic Gold Medalist Scott Hamilton.
Scott Hamilton: Hi everybody. This is my 7th Olympics as a broadcaster and my 11th that I’m attending. I can’t believe I’m that old.
It’s also the 30th year anniversary of my medal. You can’t really call it ‘former Olympic Gold Medalist’ and, you know, there are only a couple of us and I just hate mentioning ‘former Olympic Gold Medalist.’
The figure skating venue is going to be exciting. We’ve got a brand new event. It’s a team event which is going to be an extraordinary adventure for a lot of these countries, the strategies involved and who skates when, how it’s going to work. It’s going to be exciting for the audience before the Opening Ceremonies.
There are so many great stories. Skating has never been athletically at a higher level, and the United States is building a pretty strong team. They’re going to go up against Russia, which I would say for the medals is extremely strong, especially with the addition as of yesterday of [Yevgeny] Plushenko to the Russian team, and Canada is also very strong.
As far as medal contenders, Meryl Davis and Charlie White are heavily-favored to win the gold medal there. Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue from Canada had great competition that was a third gold medal in Vancouver.
Now on the other events, the women are looking very strong. Ashley Wagner was named to the team after disappointing nationals. Our highest ranked international skater, Gracie Gold, as well as Polina Edmunds, are two phenoms. Young, great, incredible athletes and they’ll be rounding out the women’s team.
Men, you know, we’ll get into all this later on I’m sure in the question-and-answer period, but a veteran skater and one newbie who’s very exciting and a lot of fun to watch. On the pairs, we don’t compete for medals but we’ve got very strong representation there, great athletes, and a good story.
It’s going to be a fun venue. We’ll probably be working harder than a lot of the other years, but we’re used to that. Our team, Tom Hammond, Sandra Bezic, Tracie Wilson and Andrea Joyce, we work together a lot so that’s great.
Chris McCloskey: Thank you Scott.
And finally, we’ll her from NBC Olympics President, Gary Zenkel.
Gary Zenkel: Good afternoon everybody.
This will be number ten. We’re extremely excited, on the verge of perhaps the most exciting Winter Games that we have had the privilege to cover.
We are roughly 900 NBC folks in Sochi as we speak today and that will increase by another 1400, many going in the next five to seven days as we get closer. Just wanted to say how grateful we are to the Russians for their fantastic cooperation over these past few years led by a great friend of ours, Dmitry Chernyshenko, who led their bid back in 2007 and has led the planning for these Games.
Of course, these Games, like all Olympic Games, are so important to this host country. As Mary talked about, she has seen a lot of it and it’s such a privilege to be going to Russia as the broadcaster of the Games. It’s been a big effort of President Putin who has been personally involved in the planning for the Sochi Olympic Games and we hope and look forward to getting the opportunity to sit down with him as Games get closer and talk about this incredible journey that Russia is on that we get to share with Russia and our U.S. based audience.
I’m out of here on Saturday and honestly, I can’t wait to join our colleagues there whose moral is as high as a kite.
Chris McCloskey: All right, thank you Gary. We’ll now begin the question-and-answer period.
Jim, what do you want viewers to take away from your primetime coverage of the Sochi Games?
Jim Bell: I think that mission remains unchanged. I think you’re coming down to the stories of the athletes. Obviously, a lot of the lead-up here has been about issues other than the great Olympic stories and the athletes who, as we document, train all these years for this one moment that can come down to a tenth or a hundredth of a second, trying to tell their story, trying to talk about their sports. Sports that a lot of the audience isn’t familiar with, so I’m hopeful that we’re able to connect our audience with more of those great stories because we know they’re out there.
Gary, how would you characterize your confidence level at the moment regarding the security of your employees in Sochi?
Gary Zenkel: Confident.
Again, as I said, this is ten. As you know, security has been at the forefront and on the top of mind for anybody who’s been involved in an Olympics for a long time. We experienced Salt Lake six months after the attacks of 9/11 and obviously, the security there was significant and involved a tremendous amount of planning on our part. Of course in Salt Lake and in Athens, as you recall, there was a tremendous amount of security conversation in here leading into those Games and a tremendous amount of work and cooperation and it’s never ceased. It’s always a top priority of ours.
We have never seen the type of security that we are now seeing in Russia at any prior Olympic Games in terms of the credentialing, surveillance, and amount of resources that have been committed to this area. Most importantly, unlike most Olympics, the footprint of this Olympics is in essentially two locations. The Coastal Cluster where all the indoor venues are, and the Mountain Cluster where all the outdoor venues take place, are very confined and very compact. There really is a perimeter that the Russians — as everybody is now seeing — has overlaid just a tremendous security force.
I will tell you that our folks there — and we have 900 and many of them are veterans of just as many Games as Jim and I and Scott and Mary and Dan — are overwhelmed and comfortable with the amount of security that has been deployed and the measures that they’re subject to every day as they come and go to work and return to their hotels, et cetera.
Scott, you’ve done this I believe since ’92. How have you evolved? In your mind as a commentator, how have you changed?
Scott Hamilton: I’ve gotten older.
I think that when I was first doing the Olympics, I was very contemporary with a lot of the athletes that were competing. I toured with them. I spent a lot of time with them off the ice and I think that gave me a unique sense of who they were not just as athletes but as people, what their tendencies were, I had a true sense of that.
But I really didn’t understand the amount of work an Olympics was and I think ’92 was extremely exciting to be the next voice heard after Dick Button. I think it was a little bit of a bumpy ride out of the gate but I rallied toward the end and I think each Olympics I’ve learned a little bit more not only about the athletes and how all of this works but the television industry and how all of that works.
I’ve been blessed to work with great producers and directors and the people I sit next to are extremely gifted and I think we rely on each other more and more. It was Verne [Lundquist] and I at CBS, and now we’ve got a much larger team where we can really tell these stories in a much deeper fashion.
Are you sensing that maybe there’s the person after Scott Hamilton with NBC hiring Johnny [Weir]?
Scott Hamilton: Oh I don’t know, I like Johnny. He’s a good guy and nothing lasts forever. We’ll see, I’ve been blessed to do the last seven Olympics and if I do the next one or the next two, I’ll feel even more blessed. Those decisions will be made leading up to the next Games and however it goes, I hope Johnny and Tara do extremely well in their coverage and I’ll be excited to see it and hear it.
Gary, just to add one more thing to the security questions – what are some of the things that are more or different in the security that the employees have been seeing so far coming and going from work?
Gary Zenkel: Sure, well one thing is the credentialing and so unlike any Olympics that we have ever been to, guests, spectators are credentialed. You don’t get into the Olympic park and you don’t get into an Olympic venue without what’s called a “Spectator Pass,” which is the equivalent of a credential, which means everybody has been issued one and has been background checked.
In addition to that, the sheer volume of security forces, however you want to call them — police, military — is overwhelming in terms of the volume versus any prior Olympic Games, Summer or Winter. And remember we’re a fraction of the size, essentially a third of the size, of a Summer Games in the Winter.
It’s really numbers, it’s the credentialing and it’s the surveillance that is really unprecedented with the security measures they are taking and such.
I think it was Dan that mentioned that most of the new events are slow style. Wondering if these events which, some of them have obviously been in the X Games. Are you anticipating getting a younger viewer in with those events, and how you guys feel in general about the unprecedented 12 new events? Some people have commented that it’s kind of event-creep so to speak.
Jim Bell: I think to the contrary, we’re thrilled. And as was referenced by Gary, the Winter Games are a lot smaller and every time they’ve grown and added sports it’s only been helpful to us. I think these events in particular do have a strong appeal to younger audiences.
I think when you saw the addition of snowboarding and now there’s other snowboarding competitions, you see the addition of new free-style skiing competitions. Scott alluded to the Team Figure Skating Competition which we think has a chance to be a really cool breakout event right at the start of the Games.
So we’re all for it. Obviously as you’ve seen our coverage grow and expand, it’s great to have more exciting sports into the mix.
Question for Jim. The last time there was a press briefing in this city, one of the topics of discussion was Lindsey Vonn being added to Olympics and just what she meant as a face to the Games. And I’m wondering how you view Lolo Jones now being in the Olympics and that storyline in terms of your coverage and becoming a face of the Games.
Jim Bell: Well I think it’s great to have a recognizable face and storyline from the Summer Games in the Winter Games. We’re certainly excited about that and there are plenty of established stars to go around. I mean we have Shawn White and Shani Davis, and we think Mikaela Shiffrin’s got a chance to be a real breakout here.
Then there are of course going to be those handful of stories that just sort of come out of nowhere. Again, if you think about going into London, beyond Michael Phelps there really weren’t a ton, maybe Ryan Locke to some degree, but there weren’t that many known athletes. No one knew the American gymnasts but they became a story.
We’re hopeful just like there and virtually every other Olympics, there are going to be those unknowns. And while we’re glad that Lolo’s got some name recognition, that some of the ones that are going to not be known that we’re especially excited about.
This is for Jim and Gary. Can you guys discuss with the security concerns and Russia’s policies on various areas, how you expect this might impact the American public’s desire to kind of get into these Games to watch these Games? Will it have an impact? What do you think will be going in that situation?
Jim Bell: I think the short answer is that we don’t know and that’s certainly a fair question. There has to that balance between the security which everyone expects and wants to be very rigorous, but not to the degree that it stifles people’s enjoyment of the Games.
We think the plan in place is good, but again, we’ll have to see when we get there once the Games really start off. It has definitely created awareness.
Gary Zenkel: Just to add to that, the security is rigorous. But you know, the Russians have suggested that they will try for it to not be terribly conspicuous.
So I think that, barring any event, this will be an Olympic Games in all its glory. This park, which those six indoor venues sit inside of, surround a really lively and very exciting place that we have the opportunity to showcase.
I don’t think that concerns us in terms of viewership in any way. I think as Jim said, the awareness is tremendously high and the stories are sort of all in place ready to unfold.
Jim, if I could just ask, in that regard you talked, you know, when we went to London how London was part of the tapestry or the story, and how great a venue that was for the Olympics, how do you feel, aside from everything else, how do you feel Sochi will play out as far as being the site for this year’s Olympics?
Jim Bell: I’d say the contract a little bit is that the Winter Games, it’s really more about the mountains and the ice and the snow necessarily than the city. The Caucasus Mountains look spectacular, and the coastal cluster nestled there along the Black Sea is visually stunning. So I think Sochi is going to play just fine on television.
The mention of Lyndsey Vonn reminded me that you folks had expressed some interest in her joining your team over there. Have there been discussions about that? Is that still a possibility or is that closed now?
Jim Bell: I don’t think she’s going to be able to travel. There have been some discussions. I don’t really have anything to report. But I think at this point, I don’t think travel is an option.
So that’s a no or is there anything she could do from the States?
Jim Bell: Maybe.
Okay, they’re still talking about it?
Jim Bell: Yes.
Scott, I was hoping you could just tell us more about the team figure skating competition in terms of how it will work and why it will be good TV. What’s going to be the drama, what are the choices the athletes or team are going to have to make?
Scott Hamilton: Well there are ten countries represented and they’ll all do a short program. There’s one contestant from each discipline; one man, one lady, one pair, one dance. And they will all do the short program.
The top five teams – and how it works as far as the points and everything else, is they will be competing under the IJA System. The winners of each competition, the highest ranking man, will receive ten points for their country. The second place, nine; third place, eight; all the way down to one.
The highest point totals will advance to the top five countries competing in the long program. And there will be a man, a woman, a pair and dance competing for the highest place and points possible. And that will determine the medals and the champions.
Right now if you look at tendencies and who traditionally mathematically scores what and where they are, it seems like a three country race. You know, Japan will be strong in men and women, but they don’t really have a very good pair team and they don’t really have a very good dance team.
So you look at United States, Canada and Russia as being the countries that are legitimately competing for the medals. And it’s going to be an interesting strategy. Russians are very strong in pairs, and the pairs is pretty much the next event, and you know, their turnaround is pretty quick and the men’s event happens right after that.
So what does Canada do with Patrick Chan? Do they go all in and have him do both performances and then how much will he have left in the tank to compete for individual gold medals?
So the strategies of the countries and how they’re going to use their skaters, that story will unfold as the competition is happening. And I’m really excited about it because it’s the game within the game. And there’s a lot at stake – the first team medals will be presented for the figure skating.
I used to joke around that if a figure skater – usually a skater only competes in one discipline – so if a figure skater wanted to catch Michael Phelps gold medal total, it would take them 88 years. And now with the team event, it will only take them 44 years. So that’s a big development moving for figure skating.
Mary, just wondering if you could talk about any of the segments that you had filmed, and of course, I think everyone is wondering if any of them will touch on Russia’s anti-gay laws. If there’s anything that you have done so far.
Mary Carillo: We haven’t done anything on that. I think I’ve shot 11 segments in all, a couple inside the area which is really a remarkable place.
Lake Baikal is the oldest deepest lake in the world, it’s got a fifth of the world’s fresh water in it and there are seals that live there and other sea life and animal life that doesn’t exist anywhere else. It’s called the “Galapagos of Russia,” just an absolutely remarkable place.
I took the Trans-Siberian Railroad of course. I was cold much of the time obviously inside the area.
I did a story on the nesting dolls, Matryoshka, you know, the famous dolls within dolls.
I also got a look at the Fabergé Egg Museum in St. Petersburg, which is only opening now. We got some special access to that and I learned all about why Fabergé eggs are priceless and remarkable. And so that was good fun.
We shot over five weeks and three separate trips going all over Russia. We did a story on vodka, of course. You know, this is a country that’s not quite warm enough to grow grapes so they’re not famous for wine, but they claim to have invented vodka. So that was kind of a fun tour to do.
We did a story on Russian billionaires, you know, the rich in Russia and what they do with their various wealth. It’s been good.
I’ve been to Russia a couple of times before this past year, but I really got a good look around and it’s a remarkable country. It really is a remarkable place with remarkable people.
Dan, you guys are about to celebrate the Super Bowl in the United States, an important event in your country and ball and stick sports are obviously very popular in the United States. But the Olympics has the ability to capture sports fans in the States and really the entire world. What is it about the Olympics that has such a remarkable effect across the United States and across the globe?
Dan Patrick: Well I think you look at a two-week period every four weeks – or every four years depending on winter and summer, and you may not follow these sports before or after. But during, you bring it to the nations and the world’s attention. So you’ll fall in love with the sport.
You know, when you look at Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards with ski jumping, you may not have followed ski jumping, or if you see curling in the outfits that they’re going to be wearing. There’s a fascination there that you just can’t script.
And as Jim and Mary have pointed out, we’ll tell the stories but the stories tell themselves. You sort of gear up for it, and then you’re in it, and then you’re disappointed when it ends. And it happens every time we have the Olympics. You’re like, ‘Wow, it’s over already.’ It will be Opening Ceremony and then it will be Closing Ceremony. It will go by that quickly.
And you’ll probably have five to seven, either events or people that you’ll take – you’ll extrapolate from the Games and you’ll go, ‘I remember that person or I remember that event.’ And that’s what great about the Olympics. It’s the memories. We all have those memories growing up and we’ll continue to have those. It’s our job to make sure that they are firmly implanted in your minds.
Mary Carillo: I have quick curling follow-up oddly enough. Let me just say that the year before the London Olympics, I was taking a train up along the Scottish Coastline. We were heading up to Wales. And my producer looked out the window, showed me – we’re out on the water and he said, ‘You see that island, that little black island out there? That is a volcanic plug from which all of the world’s curling stones come from because this particular volcanic plug, the rocks that come out of there are able to get knocked together and they don’t shift and they don’t break and they don’t.’
And anyway, I said, “Stop this train. We have to do a story about this.” And we couldn’t do it because I had to go to Wales and appear in a Welch soap opera that day, and that’s another long ridiculous story.
But the point is, we did it this year. We told the story. You can only get to this place – the only thing that lives out on this volcanic plug is seals and seagulls – so you either have to go by boat or by chopper and we decided to take a chopper just for more fun. And we did a story on curling, but more importantly on the curling stone.
It took two Olympics to convince them, but that’s a good story, but I’m glad that too will appear during the Sochi games.
Dan Patrick: Not to top you Mary, but… I remember covering the U.S. Olympic Team qualifying at Wisconsin-Steven’s Point many, many years ago. All I know is there was a keg out in the lobby and I don’t think I’ve ever covered another Olympic qualifying sport, but it was kegs and curling and I never heard that before or since then, but it was one of my favorite events. I fell in love with curling. Maybe it had something to do with the keg, but I did follow the sport since then.
Jim, to what degree are you concerned about the large number of hours that you’ll be streaming again either cannibalizing to contributing to the prime time audience, and how many of these events will you be calling live from Sochi and will you be calling any events off monitors from New York?
Jim Bell: With only a couple from New York, because there basically aren’t that many winter sports to begin with, but as far as the cannibalization is concerned, we feel comfortable, especially given the results of London that that’s not a concern. What we found in London was that the people who were live-streaming Olympic content during the day on a PC or laptop or a tablet were actually more likely to watch more Olympic television than people who weren’t live-streaming or engaged in some form of other kind of contact with the Olympics.
The lesson from London anyway was simply that more meant more. Not only did it not cannibalize, it actually helped us grow audience on television and this will be the first time we’re doing it at Winter Games and we’re hopeful for a similar result.
Jim, just to follow up on that, did that result surprise you and will once–will any events be held out of the archive once they appear live?
Jim Bell: I’m not sure what that second question meant, but did the result surprise me? To be perfectly honest, it did. I know we had a party line going into London that we were confident, but I would be less than forthright not to mention that I was a little nervous about it because again, it was unprecedented, but it worked and we’re in a media world that seems to change every two weeks. We probably heard this was going to be the first Winter Olympics that the tablet has even existed. I mean, the iPad wasn’t there in Vancouver, so things obviously are changing very quickly but what appears to be — and not just as far as the Olympics is concerned but other big, major events — is that the ability to drive audience, whether you’re putting stuff out and streaming it with apps, on your Web site, on cable television, on network television, how it exists on social and Facebook and Twitter. You just have to have all these bases covered and they do seem to help each other, not just as far as the Olympics are concerned, but other big events. The one thing that’s unique about the Olympics is it’s not just one day for a few hours. It’s 18 days and nights.
What I was saying before is that as I recall back in London when the swimming, for example, was done life, it was streamed live. Once that was shown live, it was held out of the replay archive. People couldn’t get it until after that prime time.
Gary Zenkel: The answer is that we will restart all of those live feeds to the extent that you didn’t have the opportunity to view a life feed of a sport that may have happened very early in the U.S. day. We would start those at 3:00 p.m. each day, so giving people a second opportunity to watch those feeds no longer live, but offered them the same format.
But still people would be able to see it before it’s packaged for prime time?
Gary Zenkel: Again I don’t have those two opportunities yet.
Okay great. But that would be only a certain amount or would that be all of the live sports that you’re streaming?
Gary Zenkel: All.
And then after it runs in prime time, then it’s available on demand?
Gary Zenkel: Correct. It’ll be sliced up into highlight form and on demand and so.
Jim, this is a question for you. In terms of the ratings, can you top Vancouver?
Jim Bell: I don’t know. I think we had in Vancouver the ability to be live, and I think that’s a pretty special thing so I think we’ll probably–we’d like to, certainly, but I think our expectations are that because that was a live Olympics and we’re on tape-delay, that that’s going to be a challenge, but we felt really good about where we are overall with our ratings projections and certainly our sales.
Is there a number that you’ve got in mind in terms of what you expect?
Jim Bell: No. You know we generally don’t do that. Look I would harken back, if you look at the Beijing Olympics, we were able to do a lot of things live there, a lot of the swimming live and we felt like we had reached maybe a peak there, and similarly, we’re not sure because London and primetime and it was all tape delay because of the five-hour time difference, but London actually beat Beijing so who knows. Maybe we’ll top Vancouver, but we’re going to focus on all these platforms that we’re doing. We want to have good numbers in prime time. We want to be able to help develop and grow the NBC Sports Network. We want our digital plan to work well. We want to be able to, frankly, to be a big part of launching our new Late Night shows with Jimmy Fallon and Seth Myers, so there are plenty of things here that this Olympics will be about other than simply a number.
My question is not only the streaming, you mentioned the streaming back on primetime. What about putting all the figure skating on NBCSN. Do you have any concerns about that?
Jim Bell: I have concerns about everything, but you could just add that to the list. I think it’s part of our charge here to take chances and to be bold and to innovate and to move it forward and to take advantage of the technology. The truth is we haven’t ever really before had the NBC Sports Network, a sports cable channel. We were able to air Olympics programming on MSNBC and CNBC and USA. This is a unique opportunity to build an asset with a sports audience, so we want to take that chance here and we think figure skating makes the most sense because it’s one of the marquee sports. It goes on for an extended period of time throughout the whole Olympics and it’s weatherproof and not subject to the snow event. That’s the chance we’re taking here.
Gary Zenkel: And I’d just like to add that as Jim mentioned earlier what the research has clearly shown from London and prior Olympics, as we’ve continued to increase the circulation of our content and made it accessible during the course of the live competition day and an Olympic venue, it has driven more and more primetime television viewing so we actually feel this is a very, very positive move and great obviously for the audience.
Jim, this is the first Olympics where you really have the Stamford facility fully up and running. How big of a game changer is that for you guys technologically and for programming?
Jim Bell: Well I think especially on a digital side, that’s a great thing. We’ve got a couple of shows that are on the digital side that will be originating from back here and I think just to have everybody under one roof now for an extended period of time leading up to these games, we’ve been a little spread out, with people at 30 Rock and different buildings and Stamford and even the couple of people in Philadelphia.
So in terms of the two-week period, yes, it’s nice to be able to take advantage of it, but it’s really been more about having the whole team together in one building for now the last really couple of years, but mostly in the last nine months where we’ve all kind of been together, being able to talk about these things, meet about these things, show tapes, screen things and get together. Stamford’s been a huge game changer for us.
Are you saving a significant amount of personnel with these remote work flows, so sending a lot less people over to the site?
Jim Bell: No, not necessarily, and we’ve done stuff at home in the past. We definitely have done that over in Studio 8H. That hasn’t caused us to rethink how many people we send versus people we don’t send.
This morning, Selina Roberts of the Sports on Earth website and obviously former New York Times, Sports Illustrated Reporter made a pretty significant inference that NBC plays an unspoken role in the team politics of the games in relation to Lolo Jones being on the bobsled team. Her basic inference was that NBC had a hand in putting Lolo on the time because Lolo obviously as we all know has a pretty high Q rating and would be known to the American public. Do either of you guys want to respond to that column today?
Jim Bell: You know Richard I haven’t read it and I have a lot of respect for Selena Roberts’ work but with regard to that particular story, if that’s how it’s characterized, it’s utterly ridiculous.
Gary did you want to add anything to that or does “utterly ridiculous” reflect your position as well?
Gary Zenkel: Preposterous.
I appreciate it. Always good to have high-syllable words.
Jim Bell: Well I hate to eat into your Twitter characters.
This is for Dan Patrick. I heard you talking to Al Michaels this morning. He’s kind of a link back to the ABC Olympic days. What’s it like working with him and what’s it also part of now being sort of this legacy of NBC’s Olympics?
Dan Patrick: Well what I love about Al is when I was in London and the enormity of hosting the Olympics was starting to hit me, where it’s cramming for a final every single night, Al said, “Take it in 30 minute increments” and it was just something very simple, basic, but it made so much sense to me. Then we went to dinner every single night, and I grew up in Cincinnati and Al was the Reds play-by-play voice for a couple of years, so I knew the name and knew the person. Then all of the sudden, he evolved into the greatest play-by-play man we have. His friendship was enormous and to this day the enjoyment I had with London is probably predicated on what my relationship with Al was. I enjoyed the experience tremendously and I’ll look to do the same in Sochi.
Being sort of the torch-bearer for NBC Sports Network I’m thrilled. I was at ESPN for 18 years. I know what it’s like to be part of a startup and you have everybody there, team, it’s all involved, all hands on deck, and I love that, so the progress we’ve made we’ll continue to make, to be part of that. I’m ready for the challenge, but I understand it is a challenge because it was in the early days of ESPN and I even caution guys that I work with and my bosses, “You have to be patient. Do it right and you don’t have to go two steps forward, three steps back.”
To be able to bring you some of these events live on NBC Sports Network is awesome. That’s what you want. You want product to be able to put on the network and thrilled to be a part of the process here.
Also for Scott Hamilton could you just comment a little on Jason Brown and what he’s accomplished without having a quad?
Scott Hamilton: It’s crazy isn’t it? When you look at where the sport is headed and you see it –you can’t really be taken seriously without a quad. You can’t win a medal without a quad. If you have a quad, if you have two quads…and then he goes out and he uses the scoring system in a completely different way where if you look at the national scores, what Max Aaron did technically, Jason did artistically in pulling every single transition, every single skating skill, every single choreography piece, all of that…he spent all of this time learning how to skate and being a skater first and then the technical stuff is coming.
Last year the triple axel was problematic for him and it cost him a good performance at the nationals. This year the triple axel is much stronger and much more – it is versatile. And you saw what happened. You know, he was able to do enough technically and artistically to really rip off the building. It was extraordinary.
No one in skating right now dares look into the audience. They’re so focused on what they’re doing technically and checking off all the boxes and making sure that everything is done just so they don’t lose any point opportunities.
Jason’s strategy was counter to that. He was saying, I’m going to go out and I’m going to win. I’m going to win the judges over by just the force of, you know, the popularity and everything that he’s created over the years. And that’s going to be the date I’m dancing with. I thought that was extraordinary. It was just so bold. And I just thought, wow, this kid…he gets it in a way that probably not a lot of the other skaters get it. It was a breath of fresh air.
For Scott, since you’ll be broadcasting from Russia, will you at any point hearken back to the 2002 Paris competition and the controversy involved with that? And to what degree do you think that your outrage at the time of that competition affected the way that the medals were redistributed and perhaps affected the implementation afterwards of the new scoring system?
Scott Hamilton: Well, I’m, you know, I’m 5-foot-4 and I don’t pretend to have any power over anything. I think that a lot of people felt that way. I don’t think that the media firestorm that came out of the event…I don’t necessarily think that we were the only ones that felt that way. I know there is great debate because figure skating, that’s what I love the most about it…it can create a lot of debate on who you like better, and who is this and who is that.
I think that what happened out of that event, what happened when the French judge, who is a hero in my book, came forward and said, “Look, I was pressured. You know, I eventually backed off and said I still voted the way I wanted to. I just felt like you should know what I shared.” And to me that was like wow all of the sudden all of the rumors and all of the things that, you know, people thought about skating for a long time came crashing down. Wow this really happened. You know, there’s always that conspiracy theory that this could happen but it did. And now you’re looking at how are we going to fix this? I just like felt changing the way the judges are managed and selected would be a much better choice than tearing down the whole system.
But, you know, the way that the ISU has shared the information with you, the ISU said change the way skating is judged. It needs to be measurable. And, you know, of all the judged sports, skating is the one that’s really in gymnastics. It’s really gotten to be more measureable. In the pair competition, the rules are the rules. You know what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to still keep an eye on the component scores because that’s where the judges can really change the results.
But looking back on 2002, I don’t really think that was a great day for figure skating nor do I think, you know, 1994 was great for figure skating with what happened between Tonya and Nancy. You can break it all down a million different ways. But I do think that the scoring system that’s being used now…I think the skaters love it because they get feedback. They know what they need to do in order to improve their scores. They know what they need to do in order to earn the scores much more than, you know, what the 606 system was. So I think in that regard, it was an advancement. I think that skaters still have to figure out how to be more individual within a system where they are really meant to be apples-to-apples.
Do you think that the public is now sufficiently aware enough of the system that you really don’t have go into the dynamics of it? And will there be much discussion of the way that’s evolved? And also will there be much discussion of the fact that it has been 20 years now since 1994?
Scott Hamilton: Well I think there’s been a lot of…I’ve done a few pieces for the 20th Anniversary, and what that meant for that Olympic Games, and what it meant for those individuals involved. And I don’t know if we’re going to spend a lot of time on that. At every Olympics and even in the ‘94 Olympics, we didn’t spend really any time talking about what was going on off the ice. We really only talked about what was going on in the event. What the performances meant to the results of the competition. What these athletes, what their strengths are where they can struggle at times. We don’t really go into a lot of the personal, kind of off-ice events leading up to a competition unless it’s absolutely pertinent to how the event is skated.
There will be times for what I call the Drama Department, which is to really bring the personalities of the skaters out to the public…show them who they are as people and what this competition means to them. That will be discussed as part of the broadcast.
But going back and bringing 2002 or 1994 into this Olympic, I don’t know if they’re really pertinent. And if there is something that needs to be said, we’ll say it.
Jim – unless things have changed drastically, your job is to create the formats for the prime time broadcasts. I’m wondering how much of how you setup the formats for each primetime is influenced at all by the research that comes in through Alan Wurtzel, $20 million lab?
Jim Bell: You mean during the games or…
Yes. Is there anything that happens that he says this is really playing and do you add two or three minutes to this? I mean how does that work?
Jim Bell: Sure. I mean one example to cite from London is, and I don’t remember what the specific piece was, but we kind of fell in love with the feature piece and it went a little bit longer than usual. But we all thought it was really good. It turned out the audience seemed to be more interested in getting back to the competition. You know, we saw a little dip there. So we try to be mindful of that. That’s one example.
Sometimes the pieces are great, and I think one example that Scott just mentioned that really hasn’t come up that maybe worth it if Mary’s interested in giving us just a final thought on the Nancy-Tonya documentary. Because I do think it’s outstanding having seen it recently.
But things like that and yes, maybe a sport or an athlete suddenly becomes hot…we’ll react to it. But we’ll use a mixture of their research and our guts. I mean, I think you can’t rely exclusively on one.
And between Olympics research, does that help at all rather than what’s just happening from day-to-day?
Jim Bell: Oh sure, you mean in terms of just what we’re airing?
Yes I mean… what two or three things have you learned from the research post-Vancouver and the research that your research team has built up that has informed how whatever you formatted so far?
Jim Bell: Well I think one thing is that the billion dollar lab from London definitely informed the macro decision to put all the figure skating live on cable. I mean that was a big decision, thinking that not only would it not cannibalize our audience, but to the contrary, we hope it will help build interest.
We hope that…not that we want to hurt the productivity of the workplace here, but we hope that people are gathered around watching the figs (figure skating) and talking about it and then going home and gathering around the tube with their family to watch it in primetime.
Mary Carillo: Jim – just to go back to something that Scott was talking about with the figure skating, he said something that’s in our story about Tonya and Nancy that is so true. He said that and he had tried to make the point to me, a legitimate point, that figure skating was already very healthy. I mean, you had a battle of the Brians obviously, and the battle of the Carmens before that. And you had Peggy Fleming. and Scott obviously was a huge star before what happened in Lillehammer and the weeks before it.
But Scott said something really good in the story. He said, you know, maybe what happened…Nancy getting attacked like that, maybe what happened changed figure skating a little bit but it changed media forever.
And I think that’s a really interesting point to make because it really did. I mean it was…Scott can say better than anybody how crazy it was over there. And how it just became this feeding frenzy and cable television had exploded. All of the sudden there was this insatiable appetite to find out about these two people.
I think what we tried to do, and there were a couple of false narratives I think in the story…we wanted to talk to Nancy about it because Nancy Kerrigan had been portrayed by so many people, including and still Tonya Harding, as some kind of ice princess.
Scott can tell you better than I can; she’s anything but that. She understood how to play the game and she understood the value of that and of being more artistic and of wearing the right kind of clothing and all of that. But she was never that.
I think the other sort of phony narrative that has existed for a long time is that Tonya never had a chance because of her perception of where she came from. But the fact is she went two Olympics. She went to two of them and she had her shot.
She got fourth in ‘92. Two years later in the wake of all this stuff, Nancy getting clubbed on the knees six weeks earlier. She got to that Olympics. She sued the USOC to get there. And after the short program, she came in tenth. And after the long program she finished eighth.
In the meantime, Nancy Kerrigan came within one tenth of one point of winning Gold. So, yes it’s a pretty interesting story and we tried hard to tell it. Because 20 years later, you know, they’re both in their 40s. They’re both married. They both have kids. So I’m glad we had the chance to bring this ending to it.
For Jim and/or Gary, just touching on what you talked about with the action sports a little bit earlier. How has your coverage of those sports evolved since free style skating and snowboarding were first added in the 90s? And then as a second part to the question, how do you think those sports have really affected the Olympic culture which is something you all know very well.
Jim Bell: Well, I think the coverage has been a great opportunity for television to sort of flex its technology muscles a little bit, and bring viewers into places where they haven’t been able to go before. You’re going to see a camera in Sochi that’s going to go into the halfpipe with the skiers and the snowboarders, and come up with them and move around.
You’re going to see more specialty cameras than ever before. And many of them really sing out some of these actions sports like the snowboarding, like the aerial skiing and the moguls. So we’ve tried to evolve our coverage alongside with these sports.
I think from a cultural standpoint they’re great. They’re sports that you see have a lot of youth interest in them. They’re very visual; they’re very athletic. They seem to play well with a pretty loose, interesting group of people who are really good at them like the Shaun Whites of the world who are just very compelling figures.
They’re not some robotic athlete just showing up and winning a Gold medal. They’ve got personality. They’ve got some spark. And I think that’s great. I think it’s great for the Olympics; it’s great for us.
Has it changed the perception of who watches the Olympics, of who the Olympic fans are?
Jim Bell: Maybe…to the degree it expands it, we’re obviously all for it. I don’t think the Olympics ever had a problem in that regard. But if it’s growing, and we’re adding new sports and being more appealing to younger viewer, that’s great.