PyeongChang, South Korea, is 17 hours ahead of Los Angeles. It is 15 hours ahead of Chicago, and 14 hours ahead of those of us in New England who will be watching the Winter Olympics.
Upon initial consideration, those time differences might seem to make it difficult for these Winter Games to become the first to be broadcast live across all US time zones in prime time. But that’s exactly what NBC, the network home of the Winter Olympics since 2002, is making them.
And once you hear NBC Olympics production and programming president Jim Bell explain it, the you’re-looking-live approach in prime time makes all the sense in the world, no matter what time zone you happen to reside in.
“Contrary to popular belief, the 14-hour time difference works really great for live,’’ said Bell. “People initially think, gosh, it’s all the way on the other side of the world, but the time difference is 14 hours, so that means at 8 p.m. Eastern, that’s 10 a.m. the next day in South Korea. That’s right when many of the marquee events — figure skating, Alpine, snowboarding — are going to be taking place.”
Bell acknowledged that part of the impetus for making sure that NBC’s prime-time broadcasts featured live coverage rather than delayed replay was the concern that social media’s immediacy would have a negative effect on viewership.
“[We wanted] to be able to do the Winter Olympics live across the country for this communal experience and not feel like television was being usurped by social media or other things in other time zones,’’ said Bell. “I think it’s going to be the best way for viewers to experience this.”
As Bell noted, this approach allows NBC to show virtually all of the most anticipated events in the prime-time window. For instance, on Tuesday, Feb. 13, the network will feature a cornucopia of appealing competitions, including the figure skating pairs short program featuring US husband-and-wife duo Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim. In the same 8-11:30 p.m. window, Mikaela Shiffrin, who became the youngest slalom champion in 2014, begins her gold-medal quest, while snowboarding legend Shaun White will go for his third gold medal in the halfpipe.
White’s attempt will come a day after Chloe Kim, a 17-year-old snowboarding phenom from California who was born to South Korean immigrants, leads a women’s halfpipe field that includes 34-year-old compatriot Kelly Clark. That will air live in prime time on Feb. 12, with Kim projected to be one of the breakout stars of these Olympics.
While the schedule is subject to change, other dates that look compelling are Feb. 15 (American Nathan Chen competes in the men’s figure skating short program against a deep field), Feb. 20 (the women’s short program, plus Alpine skiing, with Lindsey Vonn expected to pursue gold in the downhill), and Feb. 25 (the final day of competition features the gold medal men’s hockey game).
Overall, NBC will cover seven sports (biathlon, bobsled, curling, ice hockey, luge, skating, and skiing) across its various networks, including NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, USA, and the Olympic Channel. If you’re a fan of a niche sport, you’ll be able to find a broadcast somewhere of what you’re looking for. For example, if biathlon is your thing, you can begin getting your fix with the men’s 10K sprint final on Sunday morning, Feb. 11 (between 5-9 a.m.), on NBCSN. Live, of course.
That’s not all. NBCOlympics.com will provide more than 1,800 hours of streaming coverage. That will include live streaming of what is airing on NBC at the moment, plus event rewinds and extensive highlights. Every Olympic event will be available to stream live and on-demand on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app.
For the first time, NBC Universal will stream live an Olympic Opening Ceremony. Coverage will begin Friday at 6 a.m. on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app, and will feature, according to the network, “the pageantry and the Parade of Nations with world feed graphics and the event’s natural sound,” meaning without commentators.
The fully produced presentation of the Opening Ceremony, hosted by Katie Couric and Mike Tirico, will air at 8 p.m. on NBC. The Opening Ceremony is the third for Couric and the first for Tirico, who has taken over for Bob Costas as the prime-time face of NBC’s coverage.
“This is one of those shows that is so unique in television,’’ said Tirico. “It’s a little bit of everything.
“It’s a little bit of sports and news and the geopolitical climate and fashion and culture and music and celebrating athletes’ great stories, and I can’t think of anyone better who has expertise in all of those areas than Katie to be with me there for the show. So I’m looking forward to it.”
Couric said she doesn’t expect NBC to spend much time, if any, addressing the political climate.
“I think this is a wonderful opportunity to be apolitical in a time when that’s been very difficult to do,’’ she said.
But Tirico said the network won’t shy away from covering protests or other types of political statements should they arise.
“I think our responsibility as reporters, journalists, hosts is to document the event that’s happening in front of us,” he said, “and if there is some sort of protest, I think it’s important to do that.”
Tirico and Couric are far from the only familiar faces and voices that will be featured during NBC’s coverage. Rebecca Lowe will anchor NBC’s daytime coverage, while Liam McHugh, Carolyn Manno, and Ahmed Fareed will handle NBCSN hosting duties. McHugh also will anchor Olympic Ice, a new daily figure skating preview show on NBCSN.
Overall, 89 commentators will be part of the coverage. Among the former Olympians working for NBC will be six-time skiing medalist Bode Miller, who is making his debut. Others include Scott Hamilton, Tara Lipinski, and Johnny Weir (figure skating), Julia Mancuso (skiing), A.J. Mleczko (women’s ice hockey), Apolo Ohno (short-track speedskating), and Jonny Moseley (freestyle skiing). Former NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will provide features.
NBC Sports Boston’s Trenni Kusnierek will serve as a curling reporter, while Abby Chin will report on cross-country skiing and ski jumping.