LONDON — Given that NBC has produced every Summer Olympics since 1988, there should be little mystery to the network’s tried-and-true approach to broadcasting the London Games, which begin on NBC, if not officially, with the Opening Ceremonies Friday.
The viewership, which has been as high 60 percent female during previous Games, knows what it is going to get — human-interest stories galore, for starters. Bob Costas is the familiar face of the coverage, returning as the prime-time host. Costas will be joined by co-hosts Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira during the Opening Ceremonies, with Tom Brokaw and Ryan Seacrest providing reports.
As for the sports, the most-anticipated marquee events — gymnastics, swimming, and track — will garner the brunt of the prime-time attention, and beach volleyball will probably receive too much in comparison to its significance (or lack thereof) in Olympic lore.
But there are some differences, starting with the man in charge. Mark Lazarus took over as the chairman of NBC Sports Group shortly after Dick Ebersol, who had masterminded nine Olympics for the network, resigned in May 2011 in a contract dispute. Although Ebersol is in London as a consultant to NBC, this is Lazarus’s show.
Low key and accessible — when asked during a recent news conference in New York what he hopes his legacy will be after these Games, he replied wryly, “My strong preference is to be invited back for the next one’’ — Lazarus is faced with the enormous challenge of drawing high ratings and critical raves from the 5,535 hours of coverage the network will provide over nine channels, including NBC, NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC, and Telemundo, as well as online at NBCOlympics.com. NBC Sports Network, formerly known as Versus, is expected to average 14 hours of Olympic coverage per day, with an emphasis on the US men’s basketball team.
But the commitment to NBCOlympics.com represents Lazarus’s biggest leap so far from Ebersol’s approach. Lazarus made the decision to show all events, save for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, live online, with viewers able to watch a stream dedicated to a particular event of their choosing. More than 3,500 hours of coverage will be available online, and overall the network will provide 2,000 more hours of content over the various platforms than it did in Beijing.
“We believe streaming during the day will really help drive people to prime time,” Lazarus said.
NBC, which spent $1.18 billion for the rights to these Olympics and could take a loss as high as nine figures, is banking on it. The Winter Games in Vancouver lost $235 million; London is not expected to approach that number, and Sports Business Daily reported that NBC has sold more than a billion dollars in advertising. But because London is five hours ahead, NBC won’t be able to air those aforementioned marquee events live in prime time. Four years ago in Beijing, which had a more amenable 12-hour difference, 215 million Americans tuned in. Matching such a number is unlikely in London, something Lazarus acknowledges.
“We are not measuring ourselves against Beijing,’’ he said.
But there’s no doubt Lazarus’s first Olympics as the man in charge at NBC will be measured against the Games that came before on the network.
Manno up to task
It did not take long beyond her November 2009 arrival in Boston as part of Comcast SportsNet New England’s overhaul/hiring binge for Carolyn Manno to establish herself as someone who was going places.
Less than three years later, Manno, an engaging, serious-minded anchor/reporter best known for her Celtics coverage at CSNNE, has made enough of an impression on the decision-makers at NBC Sports Group — the regional sports network’s parent company — that she’s going to the place that will be the center of the sports universe over the next three weeks.
Manno will serve as a general assignment reporter on NBC Sports Desk during the network’s coverage of the Summer Olympics. She is part of a contingent of CSNNE talent headed to London. Celtics play-by-play voice Mike Gorman will call handball, Donny Marshall will serve as a basketball analyst, and well-regarded Celtics producer Paul Lucey will also work on the basketball telecasts.
But among them, Manno may have the most challenging assignment. It’s certainly the most comprehensive.
“Essentially what we’ll be doing is contributing features to programming before the prime-time coverage,’’ said Manno, who found out in March she’d be part of NBC’s Olympics broadcast team. “It’s almost on the fly. You check in with the Sports Desk assignment desk every day, depending on what our coverage needs will be, whether it’s breaking news or reaction after a certain event. It’s anything and everything. It’s a big challenge because it’s not limited to one specific sport or discipline. It will just kind of be, ‘Let’s go, let’s go.’ ”
How highly she is regarded by the company is evident in the company she’ll keep. There are eight other general assignment reporters, including Lester Holt, Michelle Tafoya, and Pierre McGuire.
“You do notice when you’re watching the Olympics that it’s a pretty small pool of talent that they use,’’ said Manno, who is making her first trip to London. “You become familiar with certain reporters and analysts. They’re selective in who they like, and the people that they continue to bring back. They see value in them and you see them over and over again.
“So for them to think that highly of me and to pick me out of hundreds and hundreds of possible candidates, I don’t know of too many people who would turn down the opportunity to go to the Olympics. It’s very, very special.”
Ch. 7 has it covered
Channel 7, which as Boston’s NBC affiliate will be the local home of the Olympics, is sending reporter Anne Allred to London, while back in Boston sports director Joe Amorosino will host “The Olympic Zone,’’ a half-hour program airing at 7:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday leading in to network prime-time coverage.