FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, July 12th, 2016
NBC SPORTS RIO PRESS EVENT TRANSCRIPT
July 11, 2016
GREG HUGHES: Thank you for being here this afternoon for our Olympic preview event. In just 25 days, the networks at NBC Universal will present the Rio Games.
Today we’re joined by NBC Sports Group on-air talent and executives who are here to provide a full update on every layer of the biggest media event in history. We’ll have three panels to present to you and at the conclusion of each panel there will be a Q&A session. Our final presentation will be led by Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts who will demo the X1 platform and speak to what Comcast is doing to amplify the Olympics.
I’ll present the anchor of Nightly News with Lester Holt to give us some opening remarks. Lester.
LESTER HOLT: Thank you and thanks everybody for coming. We’re very excited. Rio coming three weeks from now. It snuck up on me because those of us in the news division obviously are very busy news period. We’ve got political conventions starting next week, two weeks in a row, and off to Rio.
For the folks in the front of the room, however, it’s not snuck up on them. They’ve been working on it for years, Brian Roberts, our Chairman and CEO of Comcast is here along with Steve Burke, CEO of NBC Universal, and our main talent and executives from the NBC Sports Group, again this has been their passion now for years. So it’s not snuck up on them in any form or fashion.
This will be my eighth Olympics. The first one, 2002 I was with MSNBC, and after that I was wearing multiple hats. I was traveling with the NBC Sports team and doing my news assignments at the same time.
This would be the first time I’ll be traveling obviously as anchor of Nightly News but also the first time I’ll only have one job. So in my spare time I’ll be taking in Rio. It’s an amazing place. You’ll have a great time there. I think we’re all anxious to share it with the world as well.
This is, I noted, a very busy news period we have been in. I was speaking to a gathering of high school students only this past Thursday who were visiting at 30 Rock. And they asked me, “do you ever get depressed by the heavy kind of news you have to cover?”
And I said, “You bet I do.” A lot of stories really have a personal impact. And, of course, hours later I got the call that it was time to go to Dallas for that horrible series of events.
I say that to note that I’m looking forward to on a more personal level than I have in the past the Olympics because it is a moment that the country gets to kind of just take its breath and enjoy an amazing moment together. It’s an uplifting moment. We’ll of course be covering the Games themselves and, of course, the news events that surround it.
Rio will be our news headquarters for the periods of the games. We’ll be covering the rest of the world as well. But I personally am looking forward to being able to share an enlightening story and one that, I think, brings the country together, and people can breathe and celebrate the best of America and the best of the world.
And I note that because one of the things I’ve always enjoyed about the Olympics is we go there thinking we’re only going to root for Team USA. But there’s so many compelling, fascinating stories we learn from athletes from other nations that become part of the storytelling, and we find ourselves rooting for these individuals as well.
It’s not just a coming together to celebrate American athletes; it’s a coming together really for the whole world and that I look forward to. So we’ll be traveling within a few days of the Democratic Convention — NBC News will be traveling down and setting up, as I said, our headquarters in Rio. We look forward to being there, to sharing the experience, working alongside our friends in the sports group to tell this remarkable story and all the stories that may come out of it.
So I thank you for your attention. It is great to have you here. I think you’ll be enlightened by the incredible plans in place for many, many hours of exciting broadcasts. We’ll show you a videotape right now, kind of sets the scene, the stage for what you’ll be seeing in three weeks.
MARK LAZARUS: Thank you all for being here. Michele, thank you for being here.
MICHELE TAFOYA: Thanks for having me.
MARK LAZARUS: It’s almost like I’m interviewing you.
MICHELE TAFOYA: This will be fun.
MARK LAZARUS: Before we jump into it, I think your first time being involved with the swimming venue. You just came back from the Olympic Trials. Give us your sense of the place and of the spirit.
MICHELE TAFOYA: Omaha. I mean, you’re talking about middle America. This place was sold out for every single swimming session. That’s the first time in the history of trials that that has happened.
Now, there were obvious reasons. Michael Phelps coming back. Missy Franklin there and Katie Ledecky, some history-making swimmers.
I’ve got to tell you, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, they have nothing on these young kids. I witnessed a little girl put out her hand as Michael Phelps was leaving the deck one day, and he gave her the high-five, and she just walked around like this going, “what am I going to do with this hand?” And it was just amazing. And she just couldn’t put it down, she promised she’d never wash it again. A couple of girls met Missy Franklin. One of them was in tears after meeting Missy Franklin.
There’s a celebrity energy. The athletes are accessible. They’re outstanding. Michael Phelps is a once-in-a-lifetime swimmer. The energy in that place was remarkable, and I expect even better in Rio.
MARK LAZARUS: Well, that came through on the screen, and I think what you and the team are able to do is bring that emotion out and we look forward to what they’re going to do.
MICHELE TAFOYA: We do too. This is my fourth Olympics. This is your third, correct?
MARK LAZARUS: It is my third, will be my third working for NBC. It’s my seventh overall. I spent one as a waiter in Lake Placid, and then three as a fan in Sarajevo, Atlanta and Sydney. And then the last three in London, Sochi and now Rio. Thrilled to be coming to my seventh Games.
MICHELE TAFOYA: Seventh Games. That’s pretty cool. Then I have been to five because I went to the L.A. Games. How are things looking? What’s kind of the overall update on how things are going?
MARK LAZARUS: I think, in a nutshell, we are ready and Rio is ready. And while there’s still some things that they need to finish out, and that we as normal preparation getting our broadcast center finished and that, we and the city are both ready.
This will be the biggest media event in history. We anticipate televising and streaming over 6,700 hours, mostly live, on the most — so it will be the most live ever; it will be the most networks ever from NBC to Telemundo to NBC Sports Network, USA, Bravo, MSNBC, CNBC and then all of our streaming.
So in English and in Spanish it will be the biggest Games in history. And then we’ll stream everything as we always have for the last two Games, and now this will be our third.
MICHELE TAFOYA: When you talk about the streaming, people want to know what exactly is being streamed. And a lot of people have been asking are you going to stream live the opening ceremony?
MARK LAZARUS: Who has been asking that?
MICHELE TAFOYA: My kids.
MARK LAZARUS: We are going to stream every event live which is what we’ve done for the last two Games. And that will include not all of the feeds of the event, the heats, every other piece. And then all of our network feeds will be streamed live with what’s airing through authenticated TV Everywhere.
We are not going to stream the opening ceremonies live. Those will be curated and will air one hour after they occur as will take place with us — as will take place on NBC broadcast network as well.
We think it’s important to give the context to the show. This opening ceremony will be a celebration of Brazilian culture, of Rio, of the pageantry, the excitement, of the flare that this beautiful nation has. We think it’s important that we’re able to put that in context for the viewer so it’s not just a flash of color. And so we will air that on a one-hour delay.
MICHELE TAFOYA: The Olympics are always spectacle. It’s unlike any other sporting event. And for 17 days kids — we can all remember when we were kids watching the Olympics and having those dreams being inspired by athletes, you want to follow in their footsteps. Family and friends are going to be sitting together watching.
Considering all of that, what is the impact of the Olympics on NBCU from ad sales to marketing to just the company itself?
MARK LAZARUS: First, if anyone watched the trials over the last few weeks, but especially if you watched last night, the gymnastics trials, how could families and kids not be inspired? It was tremendous athletics, tremendous emotion, tremendous feats of skill, and just real people really living in their moment and their one moment in time.
So how that translates to us as a company is we embrace it fully. And whether it’s what our ad sales team led by Linda Yaccarino, Seth Winter, and Paul Wilson have done in terms of setting records with bringing in revenue. What they’ve really done is worked with marketers to say this really valuable piece of real estate has great value to you. And the marketers have embraced that.
If you watched the trials over the last few weeks you saw more and more marketers using Olympic-themed advertising with Olympic athletes and embracing the value that the Olympics brings.
And that is what makes this sport event or this global event, not even a sport event, so special. From a marketing point of view, Jon Miller and the team both across all of NBC, is they really work really hard to make it a priority, or a gold priority, as we say, in our symphony NBCU wide to support the Games. Every aspect of our company gets on board and promotes to the Games.
They use all their network time. They use all their various resources to do that. And in return, during the Games, it’s our obligation to help pay back and promote new avenues across the rest of the company whether it’s in the film division, the theme park division or other aspects of the broadcast division, and working more with Comcast as they’re now a primary TV sponsor of the Games. And Brian will talk more about that later.
So I think the best example of that what we’ve done inside of NBCU is that if you think back to Sochi in 2014, during the second week of the Olympics, we launched The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and got that off to a tremendously huge start, and have given them a lead that they’ve never relinquished even in the face of new competition.
I think that’s a great story that we can tell how everyone pushes to us into our funnel and the Olympics pushes back out to the rest of the company.
MICHELE TAFOYA: There’s no shortage of headlines surrounding these Games. You’ve got everyone just automatically says Zika. There’s the financial crisis, the economic crisis in Rio. There’s the president being impeached.
It goes on and on. So how is that going to affect how NBC covers the Olympics?
MARK LAZARUS: I’m not familiar with that.
MICHELE TAFOYA: You didn’t hear about Zika ever? Let me fill you in.
MARK LAZARUS: My vocabulary doesn’t go to Z. Obviously we’re monitoring all these issues closely. And first and foremost the safety of our employees and guests and all that is the most important thing to us. Everyone on our staff has had the option whether to participate to go to Rio or not. Very few people, even under a handful, have declined to come. That’s really not an issue for us.
As it relates to issues surrounding Olympic Games, that’s not new. Every Olympic Games over the last few or years back have always had issues whether it’s Sochi, had terrorism issues. London had traffic and security concerns. Athens had many concerns whether they were going to be ready in time.
And all of those things have always worked themselves through. Some have been impacted in small ways. Many have not. What we will do is address the issues at the top of the Games. And with that, and you’ll get a press release on this later, we’re announcing that we will do on Thursday, August 4, a preview show to the Games.
And we will address all of the related issues to the Games. Part of it will be preview show of the Games. Part of it will be addressing all of the many of the topics that you just talked about.
And then we’re going to focus on the athletes and the sport and the celebration of the youth of the world coming together and uniting around this commonality of competition. And when we’ll do that we will, hopefully these other issues will not rear their head. If they do we’ll be there to cover them. Our colleagues at news, you heard Lester say, will be there to cover them in their fullness.
The Today Show will be there in its fullness. So we’ll be able to cover and hand off back and forth between sports and news. There’s a process in place for that to happen. And if it impacts what’s going on with the Games, sports will be there to cover that.
If it’s strictly a news item, news will be there to cover that. And I think we’ve handled that responsibility well over time and I’m confident we will again.
GREG HUGHES: Any questions?
If you could just sort of confirm something that you said a moment ago about the opening ceremonies. The online stuff will be on an hour delay? Will it be televised live?
MARK LAZARUS: No, they’ll both be simultaneous an hour delay. That’s consistent with what we did in London and what we did in Sochi.
Can you talk about the impact of most of the top male golfers not showing up for these Olympics? Knowing that Golf Channel will be carrying this in the afternoon, obviously not a broadcast issue, but it’s a Golf Channel issue I suppose?
MARK LAZARUS: Yes, it is — it’s surprising and disappointing that so many male golfers, uniquely male golfers have decided not to participate. And that’s a distinction that male golfers have vis-a-vis any other stead of athletes participating in the Games well over 10,000. It’s disappointing. If you look back over the history of sports entering into the Games, tennis being the most relevant example, there are a whole host of superstar tennis players, John McEnroe being one of them, who has said he regrets not playing in the Olympics when he had the opportunity.
And I think that these gentlemen will look back on this and say that they wished they had participated. As for what the impact it has on us, there will be 60 male golfers playing. Many of the top 30 will be there. We expect a great competition for Americans all who are in the top 15 will be there.
And we think and Golf Channel will cover it to the best of our ability. And as a first since 1904 having golfed there it’s an exciting opportunity for Golf Channel.
GREG HUGHES: Following a videotape Bob Costas will be on the stage.
Now we have Bob Costas, our primetime host on NBC. Rio is Bob’s 12th Olympic assignment and 11th as primetime host which is a pretty long time.
BOB COSTAS: I followed that, right? Somebody asked me when we previewed this and I didn’t know they were going to show it until a few minutes ago, do I still have that suit? No. Could I still wear it? Probably. Would I considering the lapels which you could land a small aircraft on? No, I don’t think I would.
This is my 11th as the primetime host. In Seoul in ’88 Bryant Gumbel was the primetime host and I was as you just saw handling the late night duties.
A lot has changed over that period of time. Each Olympics is unique unto itself. Each presents its own stunning backdrop, its own extraordinary competition and its own set of problems and issues because that’s always part of it.
And I think Mark laid it out extremely well a moment ago: We will frame all those issues that precede the Rio Games. We’re not unaware of them. We’ll set it up beforehand. We’ll have our fingers crossed that none of them intrude upon the real reason we’re there and the real reason why people tune in, which is to see the Simone Biles of the world, to see a veteran like Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps try to add to their Mount Rushmore status.
To have the kind of moments that stay with you. When Muhammad Ali passed away a few weeks ago there were so many images of a life that had an extraordinary arc, but I think among them, near the top, for most Americans, no matter their background, was that moment at the Atlanta Olympic Games.
Dick Ebersol ran NBC Sports at that time. It was his idea to have Muhammad Ali be the final torch bearer. Billy Payne, who did a very good job as the guy at the helm of the Atlanta Olympics, was at first resistant. Dick said, “Muhammad Ali is an American hero.” Billy said, “You know, south of the Mason-Dixon line, to a lot of people he’s still a draft dodger.” Dick said, “No, that’s not the way people are going to respond to it.” But what Dick also did was he didn’t tell anybody who it was going to be. About ten people — I don’t know how they kept the secret — about ten people on the face of the earth knew that Muhammad Ali was going to be the final torch bearer. They rehearsed it at one time at 3:00 in the morning.
And Dick Enberg and I, who were hosting the opening ceremony, asked Dick repeatedly, “well, who is it going to be?” You want to know something about who it might be. Sometimes you can guess. Other times you’d like to be informed just so you have a note or a thought and you’re not caught completely off guard.
He said, “No, we want you to experience it just the way the audience does.” And so when Janet Evans, who had it last ascended the steps, and when Muhammad Ali stepped out of the shadows into the spotlight and she handed him the torch, you heard something that you hardly ever hear in a sports stadium or an arena.
You hear a lot of different sounds, a lot of different reactions. You seldom hear an audible gaps but that’s what you heard from some 70,000 people. And then it finally hit them what they were seeing.
And then you got this sustained roar, not just of excitement, but deep appreciation. It was a moment of reconciliation that pulled this extraordinary life and career on the public stage together, and it was a stage that only the Olympics could provide. Not the World Series. Not even the Super Bowl, because this is an international event.
So when people ask me, what is your most memorable event at an Olympics, I could give you the next two dozen and not run out, but it’s clear what number one is. And that is the one that still gives me goosebumps. As I sit here recounting it I still get goosebumps. That’s number one.
Of course, from time to time at the Olympics it’s necessary to bring some texture to it.
It’s not all drama and theater. It’s not all excitement. Sometimes there’s just some stuff that’s kind of offbeat. At the 2002 Salt Lake Games, there was a judging controversy in the pairs figure skating.
There was a Russian pair as a result of what was later revealed to be a judging scandal that led to changes in the way figure skating is evaluated, a Russian pair that had prevailed over a very popular and appealing pair from Canada.
So we decided that we would run our own poll and here’s the result.
BOB COSTAS: One more thing before we bring some people in from a distant location. You’re going to see more of them. You briefly saw something about Simone Biles who is likely to take the world by storm in a few weeks in Brazil. There was a time when there was some validity to the critique that some of the athlete profiles were a bit over the top — too much hearts and flowers, too many violin strings. I think at one time Dick Ebersol, after we kind of saw the light, joked that we have now taken asthma off the list of potentially fatal diseases.
But when you watch these athlete profiles, you’ll see that the vast majority of them are designed just to familiarize you with these athletes. A lot of them are quirky. A lot of them are funny. A lot of them are designed to give you a better idea of what he or she is about. And some of these critiques — and I speak now on behalf of my colleagues because it’s not directed toward me, I’m the host — it’s producers and writers and researchers who do the vast amount of the heavy lifting to pull these things together.
A lot of these critiques of this sort of thing could have been written in 1996 and then just recycled. If you take a clear-eyed, fair-minded look at these Olympic profiles, they’re designed to inform, entertain and give you a framework to enjoy and understand what you’re about to see.
If you watch the Super Bowl, you might enjoy an interview with Peyton Manning, but you don’t need an interview with Peyton Manning to know who Peyton Manning is. You’re familiar with his career. Simone Biles is going to be, in all likelihood, one of the biggest names of all of sports very shortly.
And until a week or so ago, until people started watching the Olympic Trials, most Americans wouldn’t know her if she walked into this room other than to say, there’s a very cute young woman. Other than that, they wouldn’t know anything.
It is essential that we provide this sort of background, this sort of understanding, this sort of texture, that we flesh out the Olympic Games in this way. And time after time our research and the response of the audience validates the fact that this is the way the vast majority of Americans want to watch the Olympic Games.
But what we’ve also given them is the opportunity, if at their desk at 2:00 in the afternoon or if they can’t sleep at three in the morning, they want to watch something just the competition itself, without all that stuff that fills it out, they can do that, too.
So I think some — and I’m anticipating a criticism here on behalf of my colleagues — I think some of the criticism is not just outdated by one Olympics or two Olympics, it’s outdated by several Olympics.
Okay. We’d like now to welcome by satellite a couple of colleagues. They’re at Royal Troon for the Open. There they are. Mike Tirico is going to be one of our Olympic hosts as well as covering the Open, which is up coming. And the one and only David Feherty, not only will join me from time to time in the studio with his own unique observations about the Olympics, but he also will work with Golf Channel on our coverage of Olympic golf as it returns to the Olympics since the first time since St. Louis in 1904. Here it would be good afternoon. Where you are it’s good evening, gentlemen. Mike, let’s welcome you first to the NBC family. You’ve done a whole lot through the years at ESPN and ABC, but your role in the Olympics has to be one you’re looking forward to.
MIKE TIRICO: No doubt, not just the Olympics, working with you and everyone else, Bob. But also covering the golf here. This is my technically first day of work at NBC, and it’s nice to start with you, David. It’s a real pleasure, can only go up from here. But it’s a thrill for me to be involved, not just in the Open once again, a golf event I’ve covered for a long time, but also the Olympic Games. So, Bob, you know from your time spent watching and then working with Jim McKay, the Olympics mean something special to those of us of a certain age, and to be associated with everyone at NBC and this incredible sporting event is a thrill, and I can’t wait to get to Rio after we wrap up our coverage here in Scotland this week.
BOB COSTAS: Mike before we get to David, pretty soon you’re going to be among those who are bringing people their own set of Olympic memories. What’s your first Olympic memory or the one or two that stick with you?
MIKE TIRICO: Certainly Mark Spitz. That gets it started for me. I remember specifically, Bob, I was probably about 14 at that time, the U.S. Olympic hockey team, of course, the Miracle on Ice, 1980 Lake Placid. I remember that game was broadcast on tape delay and I was trying to figure out why everyone behind Jim McKay in the streetside studio with a glass window behind them in Lake Placid, why was everyone so happy behind him before the game started.
It was on a couple hour tape delay, and I remember watching that and like everyone else in America being captivated by the whole notion of Team USA and how the Olympics can galvanize our country, our spirit and all of those moments from the drama to the excitement. And to be a part of the great group bringing it back home to the U.S.A. to people is something I cannot wait for, other than the week working with David and the rest of the golf crew here in Scotland.
DAVID FEHERTY: Be careful what you wish for.
BOB COSTAS: David, before you guys joined us, we alluded to the fact that some of the top golfers, Jordan Spieth added to that list today, have opted out of the Olympics.
How do you feel that will impact your coverage of the Games and people’s enjoyment of golf’s return?
DAVID FEHERTY: You know, Bob, I’m not sure it will impact our coverage, really, at all. I think 50 or 75 or 100 years from now, people won’t remember who didn’t play in the 2016 Olympics in terms of golf. They’ll just remember that someone was a gold medalist.
And these guys get to play in four majors a year. They get to play in one Olympics now every four years. And I think it’s — major championships make your career. Maybe an Olympic medal makes you immortal. I think it’s that important. I really do.
BOB COSTAS: In addition to your coverage of the golf along with your Golf Channel colleagues, we’re going to unleash you around Rio, which may be a greater concern to those in Rio than the Zika virus just having you wandering the streets unattended.
What is it exactly that you plan to do and what will you bring to our viewers as a result?
DAVID FEHERTY: Well, I’m hoping to sneak around the periphery of various sports with which I am unfamiliar and try to get to know them a little better and the people that inhabit them. It would be like being a fly on the wall, excuse the pun with the Zika virus. Not blood sucking, but blood giving.
BOB COSTAS: One thing, you’re going to run afoul of this, I’m glad it’s you and not me. There are some people who do not appreciate irreverence at an Olympics Games.
I recall in 1992 we showed in primetime a snippet of race walking. Now race walking is a Olympic sport. You win the race walking and you get the same gold medal as Michael Phelps or Carl Lewis or Jesse Owens or Usain Bolt. You win and you are a gold medalist at the Olympics.
On the other hand if you look at race walking, and I just said when we came back from it, to have a race to see who can walk the fastest is a little bit like having a contest to see who can whisper the loudest. That did not amuse that small portion of America which is obsessed with race walking. I predict, David, that most of America will embrace your coverage. I also predict your e-mail shall explode from those who don’t appreciate flippancy. Don’t change, just be ready for it.
DAVID FEHERTY: Well, okay. I appreciate the warning. And you know these people really need to stop whining and keep watching.
MIKE TIRICO: But you have the number one cover. You have the accent, so you get away with far more than we can.
DAVID FEHERTY: Yeah, that’s not what I meant to say; it just sounded like what I said. (Laughter)
BOB COSTAS: They’re telling me for reasons of their own to move on to the next thing. Mike, this is your 20th Open. You’ve done 19 for ESPN. Your first with us. David, this is your first. Set the scene up for us. How are things looking heading into this week? Our coverage begins on Thursday.
MIKE TIRICO: Typical Scottish summer, cloudy, wet and cool. The golf course is in tremendous shape. The players have had a great run-up — because you think of the best players in the world — Jordan Spieth has been mentioned, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson — all have had some sort of recent success that they can feel good about arriving here.
Americans have had great success here at Royal Troon going back to Arnold Palmer. So this is a golf course that if the wind is blowing in the normal direction, it’s easy starting, tough finishing. So that added upon the pressure of trying to win golf’s oldest championship really builds as you get towards Saturday and Sunday. I would expect, David, a compact leaderboard as we get towards Sunday afternoon given the nature of the course and the pressure that builds as you go through.
DAVID FEHERTY: It wouldn’t surprise me at all. And, Bob, there’s something so special about coming to play golf in Scotland, and particularly special about the Open in Scotland. You can see behind us here, when you walked on the last hole here into that canyon with those enormous stands and the big yellow scoreboard and the clubhouse behind, it’s like walking into a box canyon and the entire world is looking down on you.
It’s a magnifying glass. It’s an extraordinary feeling. It makes the hair stand up on the backs of my arms, on my back, where I shouldn’t have hair. It really is. It’s a special place to play. There’s a sense of history here, like no other place in the world. And it’s the biggest golf tournament, the biggest championship in the world.
BOB COSTAS: Thanks for sharing on the personal hygiene front. How are both of you preparing for Rio? Open ended question. And what are you most looking forward to? Mike?
MIKE TIRICO: I’ve traveled with binders and binders and binders of exciting research material on some of the individuals you were talking about, Bob. And the stories — as we have gone through the years, we know that there are scores and history records scores and teams or times and individuals. But it’s the story of the individuals, what they’ve overcome, how they’ve arrived and how they perform under pressure.
And, David, what strikes me with the Olympics compared to, let’s say golf, if you didn’t play well in the U.S. Open a few weeks ago here’s another opportunity at a major.
And for all the Olympic athletes, it’s a lifetime of work boiled down to seconds or minutes, and there’s your life history right there. You’re forever changed by gold medal winner, even bronze medal winner. And you talk to the folks who have won Olympic medals, and it still holds something so unique and special that everyone else around the world tried to get to and they couldn’t.
So those stories are the ones I just find myself coming back for more information and hopefully get the right ones at the right moment and share them with everyone.
DAVID FEHERTY: And I think, for me, I’ve never been to an Olympic Games. This is my first. And not unlike Mike, it’s about the people, four years of tension, if you like, building up to one moment of heart break or triumph. What it does to people in the run-up to the Olympic Games and how they feel afterwards.
It’s all balanced on that one knife edge, it’s so fascinating bringing the world together, to watch people suffer, for the most part, is what it’s about. And you feel that sort of connection with them because we all fail. I’m particularly good at it. But to have to wait four years, you know, and not get what you want, or alternatively to wait those four years and triumph.
The distance between the two is enormous, but it’s just — it’s fascinating to watch.
MIKE TIRICO: Is that the new tag line: Watch people suffer. Join us in Rio.
DAVID FEHERTY: Yes.
GREG HUGHES: Next up we have another tape and then Gary Zenkel and Jim Bell will be up here.
GREG HUGHES: Jim Bell, who is in charge of our Olympic production. Gary Zenkel, who is in charge of all things Olympics surrounding it. We’re familiar with the issues, even casual observers can’t miss the headlines and the various stories that have come out of Rio and out of Brazil leading up to the Games.
What’s our level of concern and how ready is Rio?
JIM BELL: I’ll jump in first. I can we can acknowledge the fine work of Lester Holt and journalists everywhere covering these issues exhaustively. But I should put out that our role really is not to get into the geo politics really as much as to focus on what are the viewers experiencing at home. And from that standpoint, by every definition, Rio is a home run. It is one of the most telegenic cities in the world. The venues are done. We have people on the grounds reporting back wonderful things.
I guess one issue pertaining to the competition that we’re keeping an eye on is the water in the bay and its potential impact on the sailing competition. They have had several test events there. It has not been an issue so far. We don’t expect it to be an issue. But it was a promise that was made that it would be clean. It’s a promise that it’s not been kept.
But otherwise everything else really looks great. I think we are used to at this stage, prior to an Olympics, for the focus to be on some of the other issues and stories away from the Games and the athletes that will start to turn now as we get closer to the Games.
And I think we feel cautiously optimistic that Rio is going to be a great success.
GARY ZENKEL: If how NBC is operating in Rio is any measure of how ready Rio will be, and this is my opportunity to say I’m going into my 11th Olympics, this may be the smoothest buildup that we have had into a host city that I’ve experienced.
We’ve been there about 60 days unloading our equipment, building out the IBC. As you can see here, this is our primetime studio. More or less ready to go where Bob will spend a fair amount of time, over 17 days.
They say an army marches on its stomach. We are ready to feed the about 2,200 travelers, 400 of whom are already in Rio. The coffee began –
BOB COSTAS: We’ll all be eating healthy as we can plainly see.
GARY ZENKEL: The coffee began flowing from the McCafe and the IBC today. Our two sets on Copacabana Beach are more or less built and we’re having an experience in Rio so far, again that is probably as good as we’ve ever had.
BOB COSTAS: If my memory is correct, Jim, in Atlanta, there were about 170, 175 hours of coverage. And we thought that was a heck of a lot and so did America. Now when you count all the various NBC platforms, plus the live streaming and every other aspect of it, there are 6,700 hours of coverage planned. How does that work?
JIM BELL: We have a great team of engineers and people who work in operations who have multiple Olympic Games experience to pull it all off and have taken it from what it was, really essentially a broadcast entity in Atlanta in ’96 for those 171.5 hours to a cable property in the 2000s to now exploding into the digital age.
I’ll show you a slide presentation. It wouldn’t be complete without a few slides. Here is a look, a snapshot on one page at the networks. NBC is still the mothership, plenty of live coverage, including in primetime, eight to midnight most nights. MSNBC will be the home of Team U.S.A. You see all the other cable channels and you know pretty much what they do. And of course all events are live streamed.
Here’s a quick look at Monday, August 8. This is a broadcast day. We will come out with the Today Show, live from Copa Cabana Beach, just up the beach from our set. From 7:00 to 10:00 we’ll pick up the coverage there an hour early. Give Kathie Lee & Hoda a break and take it to 5:00, give locals a chance from time in there from 5:00 to 8:00, and then primetime late night and the overnight replay.
That’s a sample of what’s actually in primetime that particular night, and then on the other side you can see all the cable coverage. One way, just to sort of give a reference point, two other big events that often get mentioned with the Olympics. If you take a look at a Super Bowl you’re talking about one sport, couple of teams, about 100 athletes playing in one stadium and it’s about four hours.
So you say, what about a World Cup? A World Cup is, of course, one sport. The other futbol. A few more teams, and definitely some more athletes and some more venues spread out across the country and a few more broadcast hours over the course of those 64 soccer games.
Then you come to Rio and you see where this all comes from. And just the context of — the breadth of this event and the scope, it’s really quite breathtaking. And 32 venues all in one city.
And that’s really how you get to the absurd amount of hours. I shudder to think about what we’re going to be saying 20 years from now.
BOB COSTAS: We’ll be watching from some undisclosed location. At least I will. In addition to all the television coverage there’s extensive digital coverage — 4K, even virtual reality. How do viewers access these new platforms?
GARY ZENKEL: I’m happy to report that we’ve come a long way from that 2002 digital experience back in Salt Lake when I’m still amazed we got the poll into the broadcast. That was a big deal back then.
Today digital, it’s a viewing platform. Web and mobile, with a live day from 8:00 in the morning until midnight, we expect consumption of the Olympics to soar throughout that period on both our Web and mobile apps. These are optimized for viewing.
This is the days of companions and schedules and results. They’re all there. But we lead with video.
So whether it’s the core fan of a sport, it’s there every second. If you like tennis you can watch three courts at one time. And then if you’re just away from your television and you want to catch what’s on NBCSN it’s there as well.
It still amazes me that 6,700 hours is right here if you have a cable subscription. Accessing that is, again, a cable subscription. And then we’ve built a lot of search-and-discovery tools on these platforms so that they are easy to find what you want to see.
BOB COSTAS: If in fact you want an overview, is there a particular website that you would go to that would get you started, that would be the hub of the wheel?
GARY ZENKEL: NBCOlympics.com.
BOB COSTAS: Ah, we’re familiar with that.
GARY ZENKEL: We are. And we actually launched it back in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics. We thought about moving it over and just putting everything on NBC Sports. But I do think we’ve created an identity and a brand with NBCOlympics. We will put all of the video streaming mobilely on the NBC Sports app. So it’s a great way for us to lift up the downloads of that app on the back of the Olympics and all the mobile viewing during the Olympics.
BOB COSTAS: Obviously, Jim, all the bells and whistles are important. People access content of all kinds in different ways now than they did only a few years ago. But essentially the heart and soul of this remains the same. It’s the storytelling and it’s the athletes.
JIM BELL: It’s great to hear those Olympic rookies over in Scotland talk about what they were looking forward to because it’s the same thing even those of us who have been through this multiple times look forward to. It is the stories of the athletes. You had a situation in Sochi where Shaun White pulled out of an event, and then on comes Sage Kotsenburg. Who’d ever known this was going to be the case?
Now in Rio we are blessed with an inordinate number of returning stars and established athletes across a lot of different sports. Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, Kerri Walsh, just to name a few. And one you mentioned earlier I wanted to share a profile, one of those profiles you mentioned, and that’s Simone Biles. So Johnny G., let’s take a look.
BOB COSTAS: Jim, if I could jump in here, that’s the kind of profile that proves the point that I was making earlier. In three or four minutes the uninitiated now have a feeling about this young woman.
It’s not manipulative, there’s no hearts and flowers. This is the essential background you need to know — how she got here, what’s interesting about her.
Without that, I think the performance would be less resonant even if the performance is the greatest performance in Olympic history. These are the types of profiles we have, not just about Simone Biles, who figures to emerge as one of the marquee names, but about just about everyone who will be of interest to those who watch the Olympics, whether it’s in primetime, on main NBC, whether it’s on NBCSN, whether it’s on the Golf Channel — whatever background is necessary to help you better enjoy and better understand it, that’s what we’re aiming for.
JIM BELL: Here, here. And I think we have a hefty balance between American and international as well.
BOB COSTAS: Last question, this year NBC made headlines because it was aligning with Buzzfeed and Snapchat. Why did you and we decide to enter into those partnerships?
GARY ZENKEL: I knew you were a huge Snapchat fan.
BOB COSTAS: No question. I do it all on my flip phone.
GARY ZENKEL: To reach the younger audience, we all know that we have to reach into the social sphere. We also know that if we’re going to do it effectively we’ve got to do it with a sensibility designed to engage that audience.
The best at that today, Snapchat and Buzzfeed, and we’re very excited to be working, bringing down to Rio, 12 producers from Buzzfeed who will work side by side with our production group to — we’ll open up access the way we have and produce the stories but in a way that is intended to engage and create curiosity and lead them to an incredible story like what we just saw about Simone Biles. And I can’t even –
BOB COSTAS: And Nathan Adrian and whatever else. And something else we do, Jim, is we monitor what the athletes themselves have put out.
JIM BELL: Absolutely.
BOB COSTAS: Through whatever app, whatever technology. If they put something out on Instagram we have to be aware following his or her victory, this is what they sent out to their followers because some of those watching us may be aware of things we are not if we don’t keep an eye on it.
JIM BELL: Rick Cordella and our digital team do an amazing job getting all that information to us so we’re all in sync, but it is indeed a brave new world.
GREG HUGHES: Questions for this group?
Gary, primarily, when Brazil hosted the World Cup a couple of years ago, there was some civil unrest at times, mostly peaceful but in large scale. And you guys are going to have a set right in the middle of Copacabana Beach. I wonder what the security is going to be like that and if things get close to it what’s going to happen?
GARY ZENKEL: First of all, the security blanket that I’m sure has been well documented and you’ve all read about will be extensive — 89,000 security personnel, two times London. I want you to know from personal experience I was in Brazil and in Rio for the first weekend of the World Cup, Argentina was playing in Maracana, which is the home of the opening ceremony, and the security was vast. The other thing to point out is that leading into the World Cup there were a lot of protests, a lot of unrest.
I think, and this is just a personal view, I think that what Brazil and what Rio in particular realized was just how important that big event was to their country. And even though they didn’t perform particularly well in that World Cup, at least not up to their expectations, the World Cup left Brazil feeling a lot better about itself at least at that moment in time.
I think that the Olympics have been the beneficiary of that, among other things, and that’s why we haven’t seen — in the lead-up to the Olympics in Rio — we haven’t seen that kind of unrest certainly in the city of Rio. I think they’re very much behind a great plan that is designed in part to improve the quality of life of that city. And we’re 26 days out and I think that city is really prepared and they’re excited to welcome the world.
I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit more why you think Simone is going to be such a big breakout star? Is it because she’s a new face and we’ve seen Michael and Bolt and some of the other stars so many other times?
BOB COSTAS: Well, I go with what the experts have told me over the last couple of months and then what we saw this weekend at the trials. She seems to have a combination of abilities that are pretty close to unprecedented. And people who know this sport inside and out say that if she delivers her A-game performance, it will be the best all-around performance that has ever been delivered out of gymnastics and — at least at the Olympics.
And they’re taking into account Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton and all the others who through the years have made their mark on Olympic history. That her ability, her simple ability is greater than anyone who has ever taken that stage before. And then you combine it with what you saw here — just extremely likable. She has a bubbly personality and seems authentic. She has an interesting backstory. So for all those reasons, if it pans out — and that’s part of the drama of sports, you never know. You never know. It might not be her day or her night or her series of nights.
But if it turns out as people expect it to, then she ought to ace it.
GARY ZENKEL: Since Comcast acquired Universal in 2011 our greatest Olympic partnership has been with our parent company, Comcast. And we set out right away and the lead up to the 2012 Olympics to work together with Comcast, both to optimize to the extent we could help the viewing experience of the Olympics in a Comcast household, and of course to take full advantage of Comcast’s enormous footprint and great marketing muscle to promote viewing.
We’ve had an incredible relationship through two Games. We’re now heading into Rio. And I can tell you that what Comcast and their brilliant engineers have architected to optimize the Olympic viewing experience in a Comcast household is beyond even what we dreamt about. To take you through that is Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts.
BRIAN ROBERTS: So thank you, Greg, and Bob, Gary, Jim, Mark. And it’s an honor to be part of the NBC Sports Group and the culture that you’ve been showing over the years that predates us. So when we got the privilege to buy this wonderful company, this iconic location we’re in right now, about 90 days into it Steve Burke and I were confronted with the first of many tough business issues but in some ways an unbelievable moment where the Olympics were being rebid for the next few Olympics.
And we got a chance to meet the talented team at NBC Sports and the Olympic team, and, Gary, this is your group and Jim’s now.
And we made a bet that in hindsight it’s a no-brainer. But the more I spent time, and when we went over and told the International Olympic Committee and the team at NBC told from firsthand their own experience of how proud and what you’ve heard the glimpse of today I think tells the story that there’s really nothing like the Olympics that happens in our world. And with the troubled times, as Lester was talking about, that is happening abroad, domestically and everything else — what’s been the history of the Olympics is the world comes together. And, boy, is that a wonderful thought right now.
It is with unbelievable honor and responsibility and pride that we put the whole company together and say what can we do to make the Olympics better than ever? And you’re hearing some of that today. You’ll see it in a few weeks. I also think it’s a laboratory for what’s the future of television. And so we looked at their 6,700 hours not with trepidation but with excitement. What an opportunity to redefine how people get content that they want.
We think of our company, Comcast NBC Universal, as the company that brings you closer to the moments that matter most in your life. And so is it an opportunity or a problem to sort through 6,700 hours? It’s like watching every NFL football game since 2008. It’s kind of impossible to do in 17 days.
So we have a group of engineers that invented something we call X1. And X1 takes the cable box and takes it and puts it in the cloud. And by taking it into the cloud it was an “a-ha” moment for me and those of us in the business. And we’ve been working with X1 for a few years.
They actually started on demand for Comcast and really changed television. We now have 85,000 hours of television that you can choose from on demand. And you think of movies and entertainment and TV shows. So here comes something like the Olympics, and we thought, wow, this is meant for what X1 can do. So showing is easier than talking. So here you are, you’re watching a movie and you pull up your guide, which is how X1 works, and that gives you great access. We now are putting out 40,000 X1s a day.
40 percent of our 22 million customers have X1. And we decided to create a section that you see, Rio, which is the first time we’ve done something like this where you can take over the entire guide. And so when you come to the Olympic section, you’ll be able to access those 6,800 hours in an unprecedented way. The first thing that comes up is sort of what’s airing now.
So here’s each of the channels that they’ve referred to that show you that particular live moment, what’s on now. Or you can say I’m interested in searching just by a sport and so for the first time you go right to the sport on your television, that which you want to see. Or you can pick an athlete. Or you can pick by a featured nation.
So with the multicultural nation and passion running for your country from where perhaps you were born or your relatives live, it’s a first. Or we’ve never had live streaming integrated from the Internet with live television in one seamless way.
So here are the live streams. There will be up to 41 live streams, every athlete every moment that you’ll be able to choose from. So let’s go in and take a look at a live event. Here’s a swimming race. First thing that pops up is our sports app. That allows you to get companion information if you choose to do so. In this case, you would see the lane assignment. Michael Phelps is in lane 3. I click that. Now it lets me do certain things. One of which is I want to favorite Michael Phelps so I can keep track of him throughout the Games.
Another is I can see his bio and things that are of interest, real time updated. This is — every click takes you to the cloud. It’s as if you’re on the Internet all the time.
So if I go to video, it will allow me to see other races, press conferences, Internet activity, interviews he’s given. Or I can go to mini guide. The mini guide lets me see what’s on while I continue to watch.
And I say, whoa, here’s gymnastics, real time data before I change to see if I’m interested in watching it, which would be, in this case, the U.S.A. is in the team finals or in the second rotation, currently in first place. Okay. Let’s take a look at that. I can save it or record it. I want to watch it. In the old Olympics, up ‘til today, your only option would be to watch NBC.
Here we’re going to say, no, gymnastics coverage means every apparatus. So I’m interested in the floor routine and it would take me, and I’ll go right to that. I’m accessing the Internet, but the consumer is happy just to be able to have it right there on the brand new HD TV or on their mobile device or wherever you are.
Here we have Gabby Douglas. So with our voice remote, “how old is Gabby Douglas?” Haven’t seen her in four years and we’ll have voice programmed to understand and be ready to give you information on all the Olympics athletes for many of the events and activities that specifically no other device I’ve seen can do something like this. So you say, okay, and I want a favorite Gabby Douglas.
By the way, we have 8 million voice remotes in just over a year that we’ve put in our customers’ homes, and we’ve had 1 billion voice commands. This is an incredible capability that we’re giving consumers.
So we favorite Gabby. Now I say, “show my Olympic favorites.” And you’ll see there’s Michael Phelps that we recorded before, you can favorite by a team or by a country. And again, it’s how you get to that which you’re interested a lot faster with a lot more fun, if you’re interested in being in control of your own experience.
So let’s go back to the main guide. Here is something that NBC Sports and the Olympic team has that they’ve had before called Gold Zone, all the finishes and highlights of exciting events, realtime. So if I go into Gold Zone, again it’s one of their feeds, and here we see a relay race. We win the gold, we go how is the USA doing, and just like that, you have the medal count.
So we notice it’s after 8 o’clock at night, the prime time show, we want to see Bob, so you don’t have to know what channel anymore, you just go watch NBC. And we turn right to that channel. Now, we’re a few minutes late, and they’re already in action. So we just click the restart, and we go back to the top of the hour, and there’s the live broadcast.
So we are very excited to use this as a coming together the entire company, and for the first time you’ll be able to have this seamless integration. So I couldn’t be more excited, and I just want to say to the team for the moment of the NBC Sports team, it is a pleasure and honor to be with you. We’re going to have fabulous games.
GREG HUGHES: The Opening Ceremony for the Games airs on NBC on Friday, August 5.