AS EXECUTIVE PRODUCER for NBC Olympics, Jim Bell has a unique responsibility.
First up, NBC is by far the biggest single contributor to IOC coffers through the massive fees it pays for exclusive, all-platform rights.
The willingness to dip so deeply into the corporate pocket to secure the Games is itself a reflection of the relationship his country and countrymen have with the Olympics, and Bell is the executive who ultimately controls how millions of Americans will see the Rio 2016 Olympics and how his network’s programming delivers on promises to advertisers.
After London and Sochi it will be Bell’s third Games in the hot seat and he says he is looking forward to it.
“It is the first in South America, which is a cool thing, and the time difference means that there will be lots of action live in prime time in Eastern and Central (US time zones). That may itself create challenges, but if there’s a problem, it’s a good problem to have,” he says.
He sees each Olympic Games as providing ‘a snapshot of where sport and media are’ and, by way of a point of comparison, casts his mind back to Atlanta in 1996. “Then NBC carried 171 hours of Olympics coverage,” he says. “This year there will be 7,000 hours across all channels and streams together with all sorts of supplementary content. The spectrum is just so vast.
“Digital and social media didn’t exist 20 years ago, and now all hands are on deck to ensure we use the technology to get people engaged and interested.”
The time zone proximity will have a major bearing on NBC’s presentation from Rio.
“It will have more of a live feel than from London,” says Bell, who also says he is looking forward to the use of new broadcast technologies at the Games.
“Some of the biggest developments, such as virtual reality and 4K, will be available. Like the change from black and white to colour television, the Olympics help drive change in broadcasting for the better,” he says.
— NBC Sports PR (@NBCSportsPR) June 30, 2016
In addition, he anticipates the use of new specialist cameras to enhance the viewer experience, in much the same way as the introduction of the underwater camera in the NBC team’s coverage of water polo in London added an extra dimension to enjoyment and understanding of the sport, and the skill of the athletes.
As owners of the Golf Channel, NBC is naturally excited about the return of the sport to the Games and its team of specialists will be responsible for delivering the host broadcast feed.
“We will have the best players in the world playing for their countries, which adds a whole new dimension to the sport, and it will be great to help grow the game by making it more available through our dedicated cable channel,” he says.
The scale of NBC’s financial investment in Rio 2016 is reflected in the scale of its operation in the host city.
“There will be a few thousand on the grounds and a thousand or so more back in Stamford, Connecticut, supporting the effort,” he says. “It takes quite something to pull this off. There are flights to book, accreditation and transport to organise… and then you have to put it on TV.
“We are fortunate in that we have fantastic collective experience (of covering the Games), but we don’t take anything for granted. The key is that from the executive producer to the runners we take a collective pride and I love how positive the team is.”
So, having been around the Olympic block a few times, what will represent success in Rio? “It’s about telling stories the right way. We want to feel good about accurate, fair and honest presentation,” he says.
“Naturally, we want great ratings with the right mix of sports marketed in the right way and it would good to make more money than we have spent!”
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