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Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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NBC to Lean on Celebrity Power to Boost Its Paris Olympics Viewership

  • Collaborations with Steven Spielberg, Colin Jost, and Al Michaels mark the latest celebrity tie-ins.
  • A formal decision on NBA national media rights is expected in the next two weeks.
NBC Sports

NBC Sports has always employed a big-tent marketing and programming strategy for the Olympics, continually looking to pull in viewers for this event who don’t ordinarily watch sports. But that effort is rising to new levels for the upcoming Paris Olympics with the network’s unprecedented lean into celebrity and pop culture in the pursuit of greater viewership.

Building off previously announced alignments with stars such as Snoop Dogg, Kelly Clarkson, Kevin Hart, Jimmy Fallon, Kenan Thompson, and Peyton Manning, among others, NBC Sports on Wednesday introduced a series of new celebrity tie-ins as it marked one month until the start of the Paris Games.

  • A collaboration with famed filmmaker Steven Spielberg (above), who stars in and helped develop a new opening film for the network’s Olympics coverage entitled “Land of Stories.” The four-minute clip will be aired in full just before live coverage of the opening ceremony on July 26. Shorter versions will be used across NBCUniversal platforms as a promotional vehicle, as well as in AMC and IMAX movie theaters
  • An appointment of Saturday Night Live star Colin Jost to help cover the Olympic surfing competition from Tahiti in French Polynesia 
  • The development of a new artificial-intelligence-powered daily Olympics highlights feed, featuring the synthesized and recreated voice of Hall of Fame announcer Al Michaels. The personalized video clips, to be offered daily on Peacock, mark a further push by the network to advance the streaming platform’s capabilities after generating a record-setting audience in January for an NFL wild-card game. Michaels, now a key figure in Amazon’s NFL coverage, has been in an emeritus role with NBC since 2022 

There’s much more than just celebrity sizzle behind the network’s efforts, though. Parent companies NBCUniversal and Comcast are looking to restore audience growth and prominence to the Olympics after posting record-low ratings in both Tokyo in 2021 and the following year in Beijing. Significant money is also riding on the Paris Games—particularly as the network has sold more than $1.2 billion worth of advertising. Network research has additionally found that conversation for nearly one in three consumers in the Olympics within their own social circles is sparked by the presence of a celebrity. 

“The last two Games in Tokyo and Beijing were significantly challenged by COVID protocols and a difficult time zone,” said NBC Sports president Rick Cordella. “It lacked buzz, vibe, and fans in the stands. Paris changes all of that in a big way.”

Two Primetimes

The network, meanwhile, is advancing upon a recent programming approach in which all Olympic events in Paris will be streamed live on Peacock, while evening programming in the U.S. on TV will be a curated show of highlights from each day’s action. With a six-hour time difference between Paris and the East Coast in the U.S., NBC Sports is now leaning in to what it sees as a dual primetime in which afternoon programming in the U.S. will center on live events happening at night in France, while the newly named “Primetime in Paris” will be an evening show in the U.S. hosted by Mike Tirico and feature “enhanced storytelling” of prior action. 

“We really have a new paradigm for our coverage, and it’s a marked shift from London 12 years ago, which was the last time these games were hosted in Europe,” said Molly Solomon, president of NBC Olympics Production. 

But What About the NBA?

The Paris Olympics are a major corporate priority for NBCUniversal and Comcast, and a press event Wednesday in New York featured the companies’ most senior executives, including Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts and president Mike Cavanagh. But another key area of focus—NBC Sports’ pursuit of NBA national media rights—is perhaps approaching a conclusion. Network sources said a formal decision from the league is now expected within the next two weeks as the negotiation process reaches a highly anticipated endgame. 

NBC is strongly expected to return to live coverage of the NBA, joining incumbent Disney and its ESPN, newcomer Amazon, with the status of Warner Bros. Discovery and its TNT Sports representing by far the biggest source of drama.

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