Sochi Olympics

Execs cite 'pageantry' and family viewing but move seen as bid to boost broadcast ratings

NBCUniversal has raised eyebrows with its decision to transmit every competition in the next month’s Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia, live via digital means. But at least one part of the grand athletic cavalcade is being reserved for TV alone.

The opening ceremonies will be broadcast on NBC on Friday, Feb. 7, and will not be live-streamed, NBCU executives said Tuesday at a press event. “We want to put context to it, with the full pageantry it deserves,” said Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group.

He said executives believed an unvarnished live stream of the colorful ceremonies would not make sense without description. What’s more, the company feels the opening-ceremony telecast is enjoyed by families who gather together, making it a natural for the boob-tube.

Of course, keeping the opening ceremonies for TV broadcast only is likely to ensure a higher rating for the broadcast, which is slated to last from 7:30 p.m. eastern to 11:30 p.m. Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira and Bob Costas are slated to host the event, along with New Yorker editor David Remnick, who has been hired as a special correspondent of sorts for the NBCU Olympics broadcasts.

“We are looking to maximize the viewing experience for our audience,” said Lazarus, noting that NBCU was likely to “put snippets of it out throughout the day” for people curious about the proceedings.

NBCU’s decision to air every athletic contest live ends a longstanding company practice of saving much of the best stuff of the Olympics  for broadcast on the company’s flagship network during primetime. The fear, of course, is that giving more people the ability to watch the Games online or via mobile device at times of their own choosing could cannibalize some of the primetime viewership.

But Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development for NBCU, said in separate remarks that new media seemed to have the opposite effect: The more live video people saw of the games taking place in real-time, the more interested they were in seeing curated primetime telecasts that included more information about the athletes, their background and the stories behind their journey to the event.

NBCU has yet to make a decision about whether or not to live-stream the Olympic closing ceremonies, said Lazarus. The company is “leaning” toward making that event available digitally, he said. The closing event “is much more of a party than a theatrical performance.”

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