NBCUniversal is spending a mammoth $7.75 billion to broadcast the Olympics to U.S. consumers through 2032, but the mission of the company’s “NBC Nightly News” in Rio over the next few weeks won’t have much to do with guaranteeing return on investment.
“Because of our unique vantage point behind this, we can share stories in a way that our competitors probably cannot,” said Lester Holt, who has anchored “Nightly” since last June. Even so, he said, “our job is not to sell the Olympics.”
Instead, “Nightly News” stands at the ready to chronicle the effects hosting the Olympics might have on Rio and Brazil, he said. “The obvious stories are the non-sports ones,” he said, “the ones we’ve covered extensively: the security issues, the health and safety issues there,” he added. “If something does become an issue, then of course we will focus on those.”
Indeed, Holt and his team are considered a critical element to have on hand if something does go awry, suggested Jim Bell, executive producer of NBC Olympics. In case of an emergency, said Bell during a conference call with reporters Tuesday, ‘we have Lester and the rest of NBC News to cover it.”
What is more likely, Holt suggested, is covering the event at hand and the big stories that unfurl during its existence. “We are not blind to the fact that this is a major human-interest story, and we will profile some athletes and not just American ones,” he noted. “The thing I always love about the Olympics is how we think we are going to look in on a person’s life and root for Team USA, which most of us do, but it seems like every Olympics there are some foreign athletes with a great back story that people latch on to. We will keep our eyes open for those.”
The Olympics are expected to have a halo effect on many parts of the NBCU portfolio. NBC’s “Today” show is expected to benefit from broader viewership during the Rio Games, helping the morning franchise in its quest to trump ABC rival “Good Morning America” in overall viewership. NBC plans to show a new episode of its comedy “Superstore” as well as a broadcast of “The Voice” during the Games, all to draw a broader set of eyeballs to its primetime lineup. Holt also hopes his newscast draws from the well. “We would hope we’ll see an increase in viewership,” he said.
“Nightly News” is the most-watched evening newscast on the broadcast networks, according to Nielsen. Season to date as of the week of July 25, the show has averaged approximately 2.08 million viewers between 25 and 54 – the demographic advertisers in news programming covet most. That’s about 196,000 more than ABC’s “World News,” which on certain weeks can vie with NBC for the top spot.
While Holt’s focus will be on the Olympics, he can’t let his gaze get too narrow. If he’s needed elsewhere in the world due to a breaking-news event, he must be prepared to go. “This is a news broadcast, and I’ve really tried to define it with a willingness to take the show to the story,” he said.
After traveling in recent weeks to cover tragedies in Dallas and Nice, France, and political conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia, Holt seems hopeful he’ll stay in Rio for his expected term. “I’m really, really hopeful the world can stay quiet,” so viewers can focus on the Games, he said. After a roiling 2016 news cycle, “all of us could really use a break.”