FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, July 13th, 2017
OLYMPIC CHANNEL: HOME OF TEAM USA MEDIA CONFERENCE CALL TRANSCRIPT
July 13, 2017
CHRIS MCCLOSKEY: We’ll hear from Olympian Shaun White, NBC executives Gary Zenkel and Jim Bell, Mark Parkman and Yiannis Exarchos from the IOC’s global Olympic Channel and Lisa Baird from the USOC.
After their opening remarks, we’ll take your questions.
MIKE TIRICO: Good day to everyone on the call. This is an exciting time because usually the build-up around the Olympics get us excited for the Games, and that comes every two years. But if you go, let’s say, Winter Games to Winter Games, or Summer Games to Summer Games, it’s a four-year span.
The good news now is for those who love the Olympics and love the sports that comprise the Olympics, there’s not that wait in terms of turning on your television and seeing some of the finest competition in the world in these sports.
To put it simply, the Olympic Games will now have a home between the Games being played. And those sports and those athletes will have a home where we can not only appreciate their talents, but we can watch the best in the world continue to compete, the next generation come along. And in some time slots on this channel, you’ll see the best of the best of all time; the past, come back to remind us, what made it so special.
I made the analogy this morning that the Olympians don’t just walk through a door every four years, compete, go back through that door and disappear. They continue their competition, their pursuit of individual excellence or team excellence, and the Olympic Channel is home of Team USA, will show us that, not just for Team USA but for other athletes around the world.
Needless to say, we are all excited about it and the show that was mentioned that will kick off the channel at 6:00 A.M., I know you’ll all be awake for, it 6:00 A.M. on Saturday; it will air a few other times during the weekend. It’s a great sampler, sampler platter, if you will, of what the channel will provide. Context perspective via documentaries, a chance to look back at some great Olympic competitions, and also preview of some of the live events that we’ll have that I’m sure you’ll hear more about in the next little bit.
But needless to say, anything that brings more of the excitement of the Olympic Games to TVs around our country is something that is very special, and hopefully new generations will be inspired by watching the Olympic Channel and seeing athletes compete year round and not waiting four years.
I’ll bring in Shaun White right now. Shaun, I know that you were inspired in large part for your tremendous success in your sport by watching the Olympic Games when you were a kid, and obviously it wasn’t the sport that you currently compete in in the Olympic Games.
SHAUN WHITE: Thank you, Mike, and hi, everyone.
Yeah, you know, it was exciting for me as a young kid, growing up in San Diego, and my parents turned on the Olympics. You know, it was gymnastics that I was watching and I was really taken back. My parents explained to me that you watch what these amazing gymnasts are doing. You know, this is the top. It doesn’t get any higher than this, and this is everything they have ever worked for and it all boils down to this moment.
I was just in awe of what was happening. I think that was the actual Olympics where Kerri Strug broke her ankle and jumped anyway, and I was just baffled how somebody would go the distance like that, even being injured just to win the medal for their team and their country and whatnot.
That was definitely something that really made me think, once snowboarding was accepted into the Olympics, that I could achieve greatness like the others that I had seen. And like what was mentioned before, I mean, you go throughout the season, and there’s training, there’s preparation, there’s competitions; there’s all these things that lead up to the Olympics.
And you know, take my run to the Olympics, for example, you know, after the last Olympics, it didn’t go the way I had hoped obviously and you know, I came back, I reflected, I took a little time to myself to play some music and do some different things, and I’m still heavily in the competition scene, but everybody in the main mix of things thinks that I’ve retired. It’s just really, like, bizarre, to me, because I won obviously — I mean, I don’t know if you follow the sport, but I won the last competition by ten points by all of my competitors. I’m like, man, I was doing good.
It’s great. That’s the hurdle that I’m excited about that we can clear in that scenario is that when you see people compete at the Olympics, win or lose, you get this lull and gap in time what they are up to or what they are doing. Like you don’t know what, really, what your favorite athlete is trying to accomplish. And then all of a sudden, you see them again and you’re like, oh, I guess they didn’t retire. And with other sports, gymnastics as an example, the age is very young, around 22, 23.
So yeah, it’s just been kind of like a thing that I am very excited about having a channel to kind of debut all those things that I have been up to, and my competitors, I’m sure will feel the same way. But yeah, to be constantly in the mix and having that aired will be great.
GARY ZENKEL: Thank you, Chris. I thought I would take a minute and talk about the journey, how we got to this point.
This is NBC; we extended our rights to the Olympics through 2032 in May of 2014, obviously doubling, more than doubling down on a big investment in a sports franchise we have come to love dearly.
The IOC and the winner of 2014 in December unanimously passed and approved of the new president, Thomas back’s agenda 2020, and a priority in there was to form and create what they called, what the IOC called the Olympic Channel, intended to be a globally accessible digital platform that would provide to the Olympic fan or the future Olympic fan, access to great, compelling, engaging content around Olympic sports, Olympic athletes, and a chance to connect with great Olympic stories.
In January of 2015, we came together with the IOC and indicated an interest, and they, of course, were keenly interested in NBC participating with them in extending that vision into the U.S. market, specifically geared towards that market and taking advantage of NBC’s production expertise and passion for the event, and the sports, as well as our ability to distribute content.
At that time, we had, of course, been working alongside the USOC as they had been developing their own media, and had some similar ambition around creating and making content accessible to the U.S. audience around Team USA, and how Team USA was either preparing for an Olympics or reflecting on their achievements in the Olympics coming out of the Games.
So all of a sudden, these three parties come together with a common goal of essentially achieving what Thomas Bach’s vision was, which is creating the opportunity for fans to access content, and for those of us that have a stake in this movement, this franchise, to reach out to the fans with great compelling content.
The result is a great three-way partnership between these three companies, all of whom will produce and provide content and will distribute it across their platforms. In the case of NBC, it’s the launch of this linear channel Saturday at 6:00 A.M. as Mike indicated, 35-plus million homes and growing at the outset. It’s NBC, the television network, that annually does 100-plus hours of coverage of Olympic sports, and NBCSN, many hundreds of hours of coverage of Olympic sports, and then of course there’s the Olympic Channel digital platform and TeamUSA.org.
All of these platforms form essentially a really powerful content distribution system where we will bring, again, the great content of the three parties together and make it accessible to this broad U.S. audience as we lead into and lead out of each of the next seven-plus Olympic Games.
So an exciting day for us. Obviously took some time to get here, but we are really excited about turning it on on Saturday morning at 6:00 A.M. and then bringing the American audience some incredible content.
JIM BELL: Thanks very much. I’ll be brief so we can get to your questions.
Just would relay how excited we are to be able to have this platform to share these stories. As Mike said, people show up for those two weeks during the Games every four years, not knowing that these athletes go through this journey to get there, and it’s wonderful for us to be able to have an outlet to more closely share those stories with our audiences.
As I said earlier, this is not about embracing debate. It’s about embracing our partners, with the IOC, the USOC and the Federations. It’s about embracing the athletes at an even earlier stage than we do now, and about embracing sports; in many cases, sports that could use some embracing.
So with that, I will leave you and just say thanks for joining, and appreciate your time.
MARK PARKMAN: Thank you, everyone and good afternoon. I’ll also make it brief.
When we launched the global digital Olympic Channel at the close of the Rio Games, we always said that it was going to be an evolutionary product. And Saturday is one of the major milestones of our evolution when we come with a linear channel launch in the USA in partnership with our wonderful partners, the NBC and Team USA, USOC organizations.
This is the next step in what we have envisioned to be a global digital platform that takes it to a more localized level here in the States in partnership with NBC and the USOC to give people an amazing content experience through global content origination, the live events that NBC will have, the events that the USOC will have.
And we are extremely excited that this is the first step which we think will continue to grow the Olympic Channel, its brand, throughout the world and it speaks volumes of the commitment that NBC and the USOC, that they have, in the Olympic movement, and we are excited to get this partnership up and running Saturday morning.
YIANNIS EXARCHOS: Thank you, very much. I will also try to be very brief because actually the whole purpose of the channel is for the athletes to speak, not for us all around.
But I would say that the starting point of this channel was actually those Monday blues, the blues of the Monday after the end of every Olympic Games where we all start missing incredibly this extraordinary atmosphere, this extraordinary coming together of the greatest athletes of the world.
If the Games themselves is what it is, what it is to be excellent in sports, the Olympic Channel is what it takes to be excellent. It’s the journey of those incredible athletes like Shaun, this amazing self-discipline, this amazing perseverance. I don’t think we always understand what it takes to be at that level, especially what it takes for young people.
And I think it’s the story that we felt compelled to try and tell once again in the period in between the Games, because in today’s world, you simply cannot wait two or four years between the different Games editions to celebrate that.
This unique experience needs to become part of our daily life simply because we believe that the Olympics is not just about sports. We believe that there is a message there that’s relevant to our lives, especially today, and it’s relevant to making our lives and the world better.
And there was no better starting point than the United States. I must say that the relationship of the Olympic Games — and here is a Greek speaking — where the United States is quite special. It goes back to the very first edition of the modern Olympics, and it’s a relationship with a nation absolutely in love with sports and absolutely in love with the Olympics and the best that it brings.
And also, the long-term partnership with NBC, this incredible team of people, and the United States Olympic committee I think was the most appropriate starting point for our first localized version.
So I believe and I hope that we will stand up to the challenge, which is really to do justice to storytelling to the amazing stories of those thousands of elite athletes of the world, and especially the American athletes for the U.S. version of the channel.
GARY ZENKEL: So there are they are different in the way in which they make content accessible. The similarity, of course, is what we are all designed to accomplish here, which is to create the most compelling offering that that platform can deliver to a user.
And so we’re pretty good here at NBC on the television side, as well as the digital side, producing great storytelling and coverage, and we will deliver that. That, of course, will be accessible on the digital platform as well but the depth of content that will be offered digitally, of course, is significant.
For anybody who wants to answer this question, you mentioned 35 million homes. Are those 35 million homes now all Comcast subscribers, and when do you expect to be on Dish and DIRECTV, and what percentage of local Comcast networks are going to offer this channel?
GARY ZENKEL: It would be music to Comcast’s ears, I would imagine, if they grew to 35 million, but no they are not all Comcast homes. In fact, it’s across many of the big distributors: DIRECTV, AT&T, Altice, formerly Cablevision, of course, Charter, AT&T, Spectrum, Verizon and some of the virtual MVPDs, DIRECTV NOW, Fubo, Hulu, Sony PlayStation, YouTube TV. There are only a couple that I’m not mentioning here. Cox is also in, sorry. And we expect the couple that aren’t to be signed up before the end of the year.
We’re at 35 today, or 35 and change today, and we see over 40 in months from now, and there’s probably room to grow from there.
And the question of how many of the local Comcast networks are going to offer this?
GARY ZENKEL: When you say “local,” you mean how many of the Comcast subscribers?
Right. In Chicago, or in Los Angeles or in Portland, Oregon, how many — I think we all have different tiers in different places.
GARY ZENKEL: Yeah, so we’re not giving out exact numbers. In fact, I don’t have them sitting in front of me per distributor. But the offering, the Olympic Channel, will be offered across the Comcast system, as you say, across a tier.
These are generally digital basic distribution tiers. It’s not a sports tier. It’s a digital basic.
For Lisa, what does it mean for the U.S. to be the first to have the localized channel, and how do you see this sort of raising the profile for U.S. athletes in the years between?
LISA BAIRD: We’re pretty excited about being able to partner with Mark Parkman and with Gary and the rest of the production team, because you know we are not-for-profit at the USOC, and there’s only so much we can do at production to be able to focus on the stories of hundreds of Team USA athletes and to bring coverage of competition of Olympic and Paralympic sport.
One thing this does is it really exponentially increases, not only the coverage that you heard about, but the ability to produce and bring great content, competition, and storytelling immediately. And I think that’s the biggest benefit.
Where do you see the biggest opportunities for increasing distribution? Is it on the bundles, virtual MVPDs, is it other carriers? And other question is: Would NBC consider programming live Olympic events on this channel, or does it plan to stick with the channels it’s previously been using?
GARY ZENKEL: Well, there are other distributors, so as I said, we are in conversations with those that have not yet signed up and feel quite confident that they will.
I think the growth of the channel in the future, of course, will depend on the engagement that we see from the audience. There will be my sense of some growth on the virtual MVPD side, and they have almost all embraced the channel from the get-go, so there’s probably some growth there, as well.
It’s important to note here that the Olympic Channel partnership involves the linear channel. It also involves hundreds of hours of programming, linear programming, on NBC and NBCSN. We call it hear a very robust distribution system. So those are channels that are obviously fully distributed.
So the audience in the United States is going to have many opportunities to access this content, and, you know, my hunch is there will be an interest in seeing that which might not be accessible to those who are not being distributed the channel. So that’s another avenue where we see the potential for growth on the linear TV front.
On the programming side, we are currently obviously putting together our program plan for PyeongChang. We have historically distributed the Winter Olympics across several of the existing NBC channels. The Olympic Channel will certainly be in the mix, and will at the very least compliment through the course of the day the content that is being distributed across the other NBC channels.
Does the creation of another channel create the need for you guys to bring in additional talent in terms of on-air people?
JIM BELL: This is Jim. We’ve got plenty of talent in house to cover.
Shaun, you mentioned watching the Olympics as a kid. Do you see this channel helping to grow action sports and hopefully get or possibly get more children becoming Olympians? Or any of the executives, do you believe that this channel will grow more younger viewers for Olympic sports and action sports and snowboarding?
JIM BELL: This is Jim. Absolutely. Hopefully a rising tide lifts all boats. All of these Olympic sports that really don’t get the kind of attention that they get for those two weeks, to be able to grow their popularity. I think you’ve seen the Olympic movie; you’re going to see it again in 2020 with the addition of some new sports there, but embrace some of these sports that are more appealing to youth. Absolutely in every which way, we hope this continues to grow the appeal of these Olympic sports to younger people.
MARK PARKMAN: And just to add, this is Mark. One of the missions that we created in the global Olympic Channel was to get more youth involved in sport through inspiring them through the storytelling we are doing.
So yes, we are hopeful that through what we are doing both on the global scale and the local scale and through our digital platforms that we are going to inspire a new generation to become a more participatory in sport, to become more participatory in Olympic sport and to build that next generation of Olympic fans.
LISA BAIRD: This is Lisa Baird here. Great example, what we are shooting and producing right today at the Olympic Training Center, where we have invited 91 young athletes to go through a scouting camp and compete in testing to see if we can actually place them in the national team elite development for sports.
That’s a real example of how getting people engaged through the power of the digital and TV offering is actually going to help us identify that next generation of athletes and fans of Team USA.
As you prepare for your primetime hosting gig in Korea, do you think it will be helpful to you as you see these faces compete year-round before you meet them on your couch in primetime for the Olympics?
MIKE TIRICO: That’s a great question, and absolutely. Anytime you’re preparing for an event like the Olympics or other significant event, it’s always good to watch the run-up and to watch the athletes compete.
I can virtually guarantee you that the Olympic Channel will be on in my office and the house on a regular basis as going through football season and going through Thursday and Sunday nights.
Preparing for the Olympics is a constant, something that’s a part of every day of my life between now and then, and to be sitting back in November or December and watch an event, and see an athlete compete, it will be a great frame of reference for, as you said, when they show up on the couch with a medal around their neck.
Great question, and I think the short answer is, absolutely.
With the FINA and IAAF World Championships coming up, can you talk about how the Olympic Channel might complement the coverage that’s on NBC?
JIM BELL: Sure, it’s going to be able to show more of it, so if certain races or heats or just general coverage around the events that you wouldn’t normally be able to see because of time constraints or because of other commitments on those networks, you’ll now be able to see it and there by super-serving the super fans of those particular sports.
Also, just as a follow-up, the Dream Team replays, what made y’all decide to make that a big component of some of the early pole pick channel coverage?
JIM BELL: I think it was just because it was the first Olympics for me and Gary. We were feeling very nostalgic about it.
No, I said in a press release with perhaps just a bit of hyperbole that it was sort of a Halley’s Comet of sports happening. And it seems worthy of reflection, being the 25th anniversary of that event, and Barcelona being such a special Olympics for so many of us; and I think a particularly great Olympics for the Olympic movement, in terms of the legacy in that city.
When I was working those Olympics, I lived in Barcelona for almost two years, and I can speak firsthand to how the Games helped transform that city in a very positive way. I know that’s a topic of debate these days, and rightfully so, and doesn’t always get proper analysis. It often tends to skew one way or the other without much room for middle ground.
But I think anyone will tell you that those Olympics were special for a variety of reasons, and the Dream Team just cut through in such a way into the pop culture psyche of the moment that it was really special and worthy of further examination. I think whether you were there and want to relive it or weren’t there because you weren’t born yet; it’s something that you’ll really be excited to tap into.
MIKE TIRICO: If I can just piggyback on Jim’s answer for a second; and this is I guess all politics are local.
I can tell you about my teenage son who loves basketball who has only heard about the Dream Team but obviously wasn’t alive 25 years ago to see it. Nor did he see a lot of Larry Bird or Magic Johnson or Charles Barkley actually competing at their height; knowing those individuals more from their executive levels in the NBA, or Charles Barkley as a TV analyst.
So to see those players all together on the same team, it takes away a little bit of that mystery. You can hear about it, but now you get to see it. That’s what truly all of us broadcasters love to be a part of. It’s great to tell you the story, but when we can show you and share it, and we’ll be doing this because of the runway that the Olympic Channel provides with context and perspective, because there’s a terrific documentary that goes with a lot of the broadcasts of these Dream Team Games, so not only will you see how they did it, you’ll also hear the story put together later on of what made the team unique, and as Jim was saying, a transcendent, special type of team.
Where else would you find the television space to do something like this? It marries a great opportunity along with a chance to educate a new generation of transformative time for the Games, and certainly for the sport of basketball and the international movement in basketball.
This is probably for Lisa and maybe the NBC guys. Wondering how involved your marketing partners have been, and will there be more added?
LISA BAIRD: Yeah, I think our — this is Lisa.
Our sponsors are pretty excited about this. You know, one of the common challenges that we have as a property that takes place every two years is the ability for a sponsor to actually activate it and work it into their regular marketing plan which occurs every day.
So we are really pleased with the IOC and the founding partners that the global group has brought in, and we’re thrilled that Comcast who is our sponsor, Team USA, has sponsored a challenge, and we are right now in market talking to a number of our other domestic sponsors about joining in. That’s just an opportunity we have been looking for for a long time.
MARK PARKMAN: As you alluded to, the founding partners, we have Bridgestone, Toyota and Alibaba, and we expect that we may have one or two more. It’s a subset of the Olympic top partner program that is a special category for the channel itself and we think there may be a few more coming in the coming months.
Are there going to be regular commercials? How is that going to work?
JIM BELL: Yes, you will see 30-second commercials. You’ll see different commercial integrations. We call them “enhancements” here for the sponsors who want to connect with the particular piece of content or programming.
The beauty of this relationship is Olympic sponsors have acquired the rights to align themselves with the rings and with the athletes, and as Lisa said, this is an extension of their opportunity to activate those rights in an Olympic context, this has not existed before and is now available to them through the channel and the different components and extensions of the channel.
So we see this as a great way to deliver additional value to those sponsors that invest so heavily in the Olympic Games.
You talked about the IOC working deals to create linear Olympic channels into rights deals. Is that still on the table? I know the IOC just announced rights deals, I believe it was in Africa, and then I guess what is — from the IOC’s standpoint, what is a successful Olympic Channel, home of Team USA look like?
MARK PARKMAN: So you’re right, we mentioned and alluded to in our last call that this was the first of what we hoped will be many emanations of the Olympic Channel and partnership with our rights-holders. We are in active discussions and will probably be able to announce some more partnerships.
There will be — there are no similar circumstances between broadcasters and our localization. Some will create linear challenges. Some will give programming hours. Some will have digital integration. It will be not a one-size-fits all. It will be different for every territory.
And we just did announce the deal in Africa, and it is envisioned that there will be a linear version in Africa of the Olympic Channel. So that’s a very positive step forward for us.
In terms of what success looks like, for us, you know, we’re already successful. We’ve already achieved something in a short period of time that has created an immediate entity for the Olympic movement on a global scale.
This partnership with NBC and the USOC is already successful, and we are creating a media entity together here in the US and the ultimate success will be how we attract viewers, how we grow participation in sport, grow promotion of the Games, and it’s a metric that we’ll be analyzing over the course of the next four or five years to ensure that what we’ve done is create a very valuable asset for the Olympic movement and our partners, our National Olympic Committees, the international sport federations; and last but more importantly, the athletes themselves, who will be at the heart of what we are trying to do and give them more exposure and more storytelling around the incredible achievements that they do.
Any plans to do a Team USA tonight or Olympic News Tonight nightly roundup, or outside-the-lines type of programming where every night or weekly basis, you get a news of where the team is at or news of where the Olympic movement is at?
JIM BELL: No.
I’m sorry. Say that again?
JIM BELL: No.
All right. And the two other questions I had: As this channel grows, do you see any possibility for scripted programming, maybe not a series, but maybe the facilities of universal television or universal cable productions, a made-for-TV movie about a key Olympic athlete or USA member, or deal with an inspirational story? And any possibility with some involvement with Telemundo or maybe a Spanish language version of the channel?
GARY ZENKEL: On the scripted front, Mark talked about the original programming that is being produced out of Madrid by the global channel. I think it’s 21 different production companies globally that have produced now about 3,000 different pieces of content. Some of those are — I’m not sure if they are scripted necessarily but it’s original content. I’ll turn it over to Mark in a second.
Telemundo, no, not yet, but again, one of the platforms here obviously is a digital platform. Mark’s Olympic Channel is in 11 different languages today. They are based in Madrid, so I assume one of those is Spanish, and the opportunity may exist for content that is being created out of Madrid to be aired on Telemundo Universo. That’s not something that we have begun to talk about. But can’t imagine why if it’s good, compelling Olympic content, Telemundo Universo, who both embraced the Olympics, that it wouldn’t potentially be able to air there.
MARK PARKMAN: It’s Mark. As Gary alluded to, a lot of the original programming that we are producing from Madrid, it’s not necessarily scripted. But it is documentary; it’s episodic; it’s telling athlete stories; it’s going behind the scenes, showing their training routine, showing special stories about what it is they are overcoming.
So yes, that is part of what we’re providing. We also have a documentary series that we have partnered with frank marshal, the famous Hollywood filmmaker who is an Olympic fan. He actually was formerly on the USOC board. One time he and Mandalay Sports Media were producing a five-film series that we have the working title, Five Rings Films, and the first one is focused on Cuban boxing and the legends and the success that they have had. We endeavor to do five of those per year. We’ll be announcing another one soon.
But the idea there is to create a branded documentary series in the same vein as what ESPN has done with 30 for 30, but focused on the Olympic movement and telling those great stories in that type of fashion.
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