NBC Olympic broadcasts

The broadcasts of Summer and Winter Olympic Games produced by NBC Sports is shown on the various networks of NBCUniversal in the United States, including the NBC broadcast network, Spanish language network Telemundo, and many of the company's cable networks. The event telecasts during the Olympics air primarily in the evening and on weekend afternoons on NBC, with varying times on its cable networks (such as after the close of the stock market day on CNBC, the early mornings on MSNBC, overnights on the USA Network, and various hours on NBCSN).

Olympic Games on NBC
GenreOlympics telecasts
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons14
Production location(s)Various Olympic venues (event telecasts and studio segments)
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running timeVaries
Production company(s)NBC Olympics, LLC
(NBC Sports Group)
Original networkNBC Sports
Golf Channel
NBC Sports Regional Networks
Telemundo Deportes
Olympic Channel
Picture format480i (SDTV),
1080i (HDTV),
2160p (4K UHDTV)
Original releaseOctober 10, 1964 (1964-10-10) – October 24, 1964 (1964-10-24)
February 3, 1972 (1972-02-03) – February 13, 1972 (1972-02-13)
September 17, 1988 (1988-09-17) 
External links

The on-air title of the telecasts, as typically announced at the start of each broadcast and during sponsor billboards is always the official name of the games in question – for example, The Games of the XXIX Olympiad for the 2008 Summer Games. However, promotional logos may reflect the more common location-and-year name format, such as "Beijing 2008".

NBC has held the American broadcasting rights to the Summer Olympic Games since the 1988 games and the rights to the Winter Olympic Games since the 2002 games. In 2011, NBC agreed to a $4.38 billion contract with the International Olympic Committee to broadcast the Olympics through the 2020 games, the most expensive television rights deal in Olympic history.[1] NBC then agreed to a $7.75 billion contract extension on May 7, 2014, to air the Olympics through the 2032 games.[2] NBC also acquired the American television rights to the Youth Olympic Games, beginning in 2014,[3] and the Paralympic Games for the 2014 and 2016 editions.[4] NBC is one of the major sources of revenue for the IOC.[5]

NBC's coverage of the Olympics has been criticized for the tape delaying of events, spoiling the results of events prior to their own tape-delayed broadcast of those events, editing of its broadcasts to resemble an emotionally-appealing program meant to entertain rather than a straight live sports event,[6][7] as well as avoiding controversial subjects such as material critical of Russia at the 2014 Olympics.[8]


Early coverage

1964 Summer Olympics

NBC televised its first Olympic Games in 1964, when it broadcast that year's Summer Olympics from Tokyo. The network did this with the aid of the Syncom 3 satellite for direct broadcasts. NBC's telecast of the opening ceremonies that year marked the first color broadcast televised live via satellite back to the United States.[9]

The Olympic competition itself was broadcast in black-and-white. Through its use of the Syncom 3 satellite, a daily highlights package could be seen a few hours after the events took place; otherwise, videotape canisters were flown across the Pacific Ocean and were broadcast to American viewers the following day.[10]

Serving as anchor was Bill Henry, then NBC News Tokyo bureau chief, who had extensive experience in both print and broadcast news. Play-by-play commentators included Bud Palmer and Jim Simpson, while former Olympians Rafer Johnson and Murray Rose served as analysts.

1972 Winter Olympics

NBC first televised the Winter Olympic Games in 1972.[11] Anchored by Curt Gowdy, much of the coverage actually was broadcast live since alpine skiing and long track speed skating were held in the morning, which corresponded to prime time on the East Coast of the U.S. Although NBC bought the TV rights from the Sapporo Olympics group, they didn't know that they had to make a deal with NHK for broadcast booths at each venue. By the time NBC found out, it was too late. The booths had been built and there were none to spare. Consequently, everyone worked off monitors.

A young sportscaster making his network television debut at Sapporo was a 26-year-old Al Michaels, who did hockey play-by-play during the games. Eight years later, he would call the famous 1980 "Miracle On Ice" at that year's Winter Games in Lake Placid for ABC Sports.

1980 Summer Olympic boycott

NBC had won the U.S. broadcast rights for the 1980 Summer Olympics,[12] but when the United States Olympic Committee kept U.S. athletes home to honor the boycott announced by President Jimmy Carter, the telecasts were greatly scaled back. In the end, what had been 150 hours of scheduled coverage, had substantially decreased to just a few hours. Highlights were fed to local NBC stations for use on their local newscasts. Many affiliates, however, refused to show the Olympic highlights on their local news or clear airtime for the few hours of coverage NBC did present.

NBC's extensive coverage was canceled before a prime time anchor had been named; it was said that NBC Nightly News anchor John Chancellor (who formerly served as a Moscow bureau chief for NBC News), along with sportscasters Bryant Gumbel[13][14] and Dick Enberg, were reportedly being considered for the prime time studio host role. Bryant Gumbel ultimately served as Seoul primetime host while Dick Enberg co-hosted the Ceremonies through the 1996 closing.

1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul

NBC then bid for, and won, the rights to show the 1988 Summer Olympics. Network officials convinced the organizers in Seoul to stage most of its gold-medal finals in the afternoon, which corresponded to prime time of the previous night in the United States (due to both South Korea being located near the western border of the International Date Line, in addition to the differences in time zones).

Today co-anchor Bryant Gumbel was the prime time host[15] that year; Bob Costas hosted the late-night show while Jane Pauley was one of the hosts of early-morning coverage. Gumbel and Dick Enberg were co-hosts for the opening and closing ceremonies.

Michael Weisman led a team covering the 1988 Summer Olympics for the network.[16] One of those employees was (later CNN President) Jeff Zucker, who Weisman hired as a researcher.[17] Weisman considered producing the Olympics a challenge, saying, "my mandate is to shatter the mystique that only ABC can do the Olympics."[18] Weisman assembled the "Seoul Searchers," a group of specialized sports reporters tasked with following breaking news during the Games.[19] Some criticized the journalistic focus to the games.[20] Weisman, however, defended the tone, saying "the criticism we hear is that people want to hear positive news . . . we are not the American team. We are clearly rooting for the American team, but we're not going to whitewash anything." Other ideas Weisman introduced for the Olympics included miniature “point of view cameras” for specific events such as the pole vault and gymnastics; the “Olympic Chronicles,” profiles which highlighted athletes and moments from Olympics past; and an Olympic soundtrack which included an original Whitney Houston song, “One Moment in Time”.[21] NBC won seven Emmy Awards for their Olympic coverage.[22]

A curious result was that, since in the United States, the 1988 NFL season had just started, NBC would plug the holes (primarily play-by-play broadcasters) with well-known older broadcasters such as Curt Gowdy, Ray Scott and Merle Harmon, among others. Marv Albert was calling boxing during the Olympics alongside Ferdie Pacheco. Meanwhile, Don Criqui and Bob Trumpy called swimming (alongside Candy Costie-Burke for the synchronized events and John Naber) and called volleyball (alongside Chris Marlowe) respectively. Charlie Jones called track and field (alongside Frank Shorter and Dwight Stones) and Jimmy Cefalo served as the daytime host. Bob Costas (as previously mentioned) and Gayle Gardner were NBC's late night hosts. Dick Enberg served as host for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and called men's basketball (alongside Al McGuire) and gymnastics (alongside Mary Lou Retton and Bart Conner). Jay Randolph called baseball during the Olympics alongside Jim Kaat.

1992 and 1996 Summer Olympics

Just as his mentor Roone Arledge had before over at ABC, Dick Ebersol, who took over NBC Sports in 1989, decided to make the Olympics a staple of his network's sports television schedule. NBC continued its Summer Games coverage into the next decade, with both the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona and the 1996 Summer Olympics. For the 1992 games, Ebersol surprised even his own staff as well as everybody else by paying a then record $401 million for the 1992 games.[23][24] The network then paid $456 million to broadcast the 1996 Olympics.[25] Previously hosting late night coverage in Seoul, Bob Costas made his debut, as primetime host, in Barcelona. It is a role that he held through the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics.

1992 Olympics Triplecast

In order to defray costs of airing the games, the network teamed up with Cablevision for the Triplecast. The service consisted of red, white, and blue channels that allowed the viewer to watch anything they wanted even before it aired in the network's primetime telecast. However, the service was a dismal failure losing $100 million and had only 200,000 subscribers. In addition, the main network's coverage was cannibalized to the extent it seemed that the main coverage was overproduced and that viewers knew some results about 10 hours before they were aired over the air on NBC. For Atlanta, NBC had no supplemental cable coverage.

1996 Olympic Park Bombing

And as with Arledge in Munich, Ebersol had to deal with breaking news during the Atlanta Games. During the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in 1996, NBC suspended its coverage of a volleyball game and broadcast the news for several hours commercial-free. Like ABC's 1972 Munich coverage, the main primetime host did not cover the bombing. That role went to both Hannah Storm and Jim Lampley for the first half-hour before turning coverage over to NBC Nightly News host Tom Brokaw. Toward the end of the second hour of coverage, NBC had an exclusive as Atlanta TV affiliate WXIA was in the process of interviewing Janet Evans during the bombing.

Cable and satellite services become involved

To help offset the increasing costs of broadcast rights, NBC turned to cable and satellite services to help provide additional coverage. In 1992, NBC teamed up with Cablevision to launch the Triplecast, which provided three pay-per-view channels that each offered separate event telecasts that supplemented NBC's regular coverage. However, the package was deemed a major failure and NBC lost over $100 million on the venture; there was no supplemental coverage from Atlanta for the 1996 Summer Olympics.


Olympic coverage in the 2000s revolved around two major storylines:

  • NBC became the sole U.S. rights holder for the Olympic Games for the entire decade. The network could rightly boast of being "America's Olympic Network" as it made the longest and most expensive commitment ever since the Olympics were first presented on television. For the 1996 Summer Olympics, and all Games from 2000 to 2008, NBC paid a total of $3.5 billion, mostly to the International Olympic Committee but also to the United States Olympic Committee and local organizers. In 2006, NBC paid another $2.2 billion to purchase the rights to the 2010 Winter Olympics and 2012 Summer Olympics[26] but lost $223 million on the 2010 broadcasts.[27]
  • The rise of various media platforms extended the reach and availability of Olympic Games coverage. NBC returned to supplemental cable/satellite coverage in 2000, with some events airing on CNBC and MSNBC; traditionally CNBC has mainly aired coverage of boxing events. In 2004, it added USA Network, Bravo and Telemundo, all of which parent company NBC Universal had acquired earlier in the decade. In 2006, Universal HD was added to the list of channels carrying the Games. Finally, in 2008, events were streamed live for the first time on the Internet through the NBCOlympics.com website (also in 2008, Oxygen replaced Bravo as a supplemental network, and NBC launched high-definition channels dedicated to the basketball and soccer competitions). The 2010 Games added then-digital multicast network Universal Sports, which carried analysis programs about events, while Oxygen and Bravo were completely excluded to maintain their schedules.

During the 2006 Winter Olympics, USA Network aired a daily studio program focusing on the figure skating competitions, Olympic Ice, which was hosted by Mary Carillo and featured appearances by analysts and skaters such as Dick Button (who hosted the viewer e-mail segment "Push Dick's Button"), Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.[28][29]

Comcast acquisition of NBC (2011–present)

In 2011, Comcast acquired majority control of NBC's parent company NBC Universal from General Electric (whose remaining interest Comcast later acquired in 2012); on June 6, 2011, NBCUniversal announced that it had acquired the television rights for the 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020 Olympics, beating out ESPN/ABC and Fox. The entire package was worth $4.38 billion, making it the most expensive television rights deal in Olympic history. NBC paid $775 million for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and $1.23 billion for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. NBC also paid $963 million for the rights to the 2018 Winter Olympics (in Pyeongchang, South Korea) and $1.45 billion for the 2020 Summer Olympics (to be held in Tokyo, Japan).

In response to criticism it received during previous Olympics, NBC also announced that beginning in 2012, it planned to broadcast all events live through either television or digital platforms. Additionally, the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN; formerly Versus, which became a part of NBC Sports following the acquisition) also added coverage of the Olympics beginning with the 2012 London Games, with an emphasis on team sports.[1][30][31] NBCSN became the highlighted cable network for coverage, replacing both USA Network, which would maintain their regular entertainment schedule during the games. The 2012 Summer Olympics also saw Universal HD removed from the company's cable/satellite coverage. Bravo aired supplemental coverage (mainly the tennis tournament) in place of Oxygen, with Universal Sports again solely providing analysis and pay television providers again carrying dedicated HD basketball and soccer networks.

The 2014 Winter Olympics again saw NBCSN as the highlighted cable network, though NBCUniversal's cable networks had additional complications due to NBC's weekend coverage of the Premier League, which usually airs on NBCSN but was instead moved to USA Network due to the Olympics, and some coverage of the games usually seen on CNBC replaced with the first night of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show because of the yearly conflict with USA's WWE Monday Night Raw. A new online-network called "Gold Zone," which features rolling coverage of events in the style of NFL Network's RedZone Channel and ESPN Goal Line (and has been by coincidence hosted by Andrew Siciliano, who also hosts the NFL Sunday Ticket-exclusive version of RedZone for DirecTV), was also launched to provide coverage of the Games, which was retained for 2016's coverage.

In 2016, NBC began to offer 4K content on a delayed basis through participating service providers (particularly DirecTV, Dish Network, and Xfinity), downconverted from 8K footage filmed by NHK and OBS, with HDR and Dolby Atmos support. 86 hours of event footage was offered.[32][33]

With the re-introduction of golf to the Olympics, Golf Channel was added to NBC's coverage, with NBC's golf production unit also serving as the host broadcaster of the two tournaments.[34] The primetime block of NBC's coverage in 2016 also featured Descriptive Video Service through the SAP channel for the first time since the Federal Communications Commission was allowed to require broadcasters to expand their production and access to described programming for the blind and visually impaired (though live sporting events were not required under the guidelines, so NBC's effort is entirely voluntary).[35]

On March 28, 2017, NBC announced that it would adopt a new format for its primetime coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics, with a focus on live coverage in all time zones to take advantage of Pyeongchang's 14-hour difference with U.S. Eastern Time, and to address criticism of its previous tape delay practices. As before, the primetime block began at 8:00 p.m ET/5:00 p.m PT, and unlike previous Olympics, was available for streaming. Event sessions in figure skating were deliberately scheduled with morning sessions so that they could air during primetime in the Americas (and in turn, NBC's coverage; due to the substantial fees NBC has paid for rights to the Olympics, the IOC has allowed NBC to have influence on event scheduling to maximize U.S. television ratings when possible; NBC agreed to a $7.75 billion contract extension on May 7, 2014, to air the Olympics through the 2032 games,[36] is also one of the major sources of revenue for the IOC).[5][37] Coverage took a break in the east for late local news, after which coverage continued into "Primetime Plus", which featured additional live coverage into the Eastern late night and Western primetime hours. This was then followed by an encore of the Primetime block. NBCSN also broadcast live primetime blocks, and revived Olympic Ice to serve as a pre-show for figure skating coverage (hosted by Liam McHugh and Tanith White from Pyeongchang), alongside a digital-exclusive post-show hosted by Krista Voda from NBC Sports' headquarters.[38][39] Bob Costas stepped down as main host prior to the Games, being replaced by Mike Tirico.[40][41]

On February 19, 2018, NBC began airing the Fallon Five, an abbreviated version of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, for the remaining weekdays of the Games.[42][43]


Local coverage

Since the 2006 Winter Olympics, local affiliates have often aired a half-hour program preceding prime time coverage called The Olympic Zone, which features a mix of locally produced Olympian profiles and content mixed with promotional materials and stories from the NBC News Channel affiliate news service. The program is modeled on a similar program, O-Zone, that aired on NBC affiliate KCRA-TV in Sacramento, California, during the 2004 Summer Olympics.[44][45]

Hours of coverage

Year Host Hours of Coverage
1964 SummerTokyo, Japan15 hours overall.[46]
1972 WinterSapporo, Japan37[46]
1980 SummerMoscow, Soviet Unionprimarily highlights (6 hours of highlights)[46]
1988 SummerSeoul, South Korea179.5[47]
1992 SummerBarcelona, Spain161[48] + 1080 on Triplecast[49]
1996 SummerAtlanta, United States171[50]
2000 SummerSydney, Australia441.5[50]
2002 WinterSalt Lake City, United States375.5[51][52]
2004 SummerAthens, Greece1210[50][53]
2006 WinterTorino, Italy416[51][54]
2008 SummerBeijing, China3600[47]
2010 WinterVancouver, Canada835[55]
2012 SummerLondon, United Kingdom5535[56]
2014 WinterSochi, Russia1539[57]
2016 SummerRio de Janeiro, Brazil6755
2018 WinterPyeongchang, South Korea2400
2020 SummerTokyo, JapanTBD
2022 WinterBeijing, ChinaTBD
2024 SummerParis, FranceTBD
2026 WinterMilan-Cortina, ItalyTBD
2028 SummerLos Angeles, United StatesTBD
2030 WinterTBATBD
2032 SummerTBATBD

Traditionally, NBC has primarily televised marquee sports in its Olympic coverage. When the network added coverage on its cable partners in 2000, it allowed them to televise other sports. 2004 marked the first year that they televised all 28 sports in the Summer Games.[58] In 2008, aided with online streaming, NBC aired many of the events held at the summer games live.


Since 1992, the main theme of NBC's Olympics coverage has been "Bugler's Dream", a composition by Leo Arnaud that was historically used by ABC as the main theme of its Olympics coverage since 1968. Since the 1996 Summer Olympics, the composition has been traditionally followed by John Williams' "Olympic Fanfare and Theme", which was originally composed for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Williams has also composed other secondary themes for the Olympics and NBC's telecasts, including "The Olympic Spirit" (which was used as the main theme in 1988, NBC's first year as rightsholder, before "Bugler's Dream" was reinstated the following Olympiad), "Summon the Heroes" (a piece written for the opening ceremony in 1996),[59] and "Call of the Champions" (which was written for the 2002 Winter Olympics).[60][61][62][63]

Since 1996, NBC has also used the Randy Edelman-composed theme song from the short-lived Fox series The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. during its coverage. NBC had commissioned Edelman to compose theme music for its National Football League coverage (stemming from its prior use of a portion of his score for the film Gettysburg for its coverage of the Breeder's Cup), and the theme was included in a portfolio of work Edelman had sent the network. Edelman felt that the track "seemed to have the right spirit. It's got a very flowing melody, it's triumphant, and it has a certain warmth. And it has at the end of it, what all television things like this have, a 'button,' an ending flourish that works really well if they need to chop it down into a 15-second thing." Senior creative producer Mark Levy felt that the works that Edelman had scored, as with John Williams, shared the "proportion and emotion" of the Olympics.[64]

Yanni's "In Celebration of Man", a piece that CBS had declined an offer to use at the 1992 Winter Olympics, was used during a preview special for the 1992 Summer Olympics; NBC's Olympics producer at the time was friends with the musician. Although NBC did not use it during the Games, the song was later picked up by its golf telecasts, and used for its coverage of USGA tournaments (such as the U.S. Open) until 2015, and The Open Championship since 2016.[65][66] During the 2008 Summer Olympics, NBC briefly revived "Roundball Rock", the John Tesh-composed theme music of the former NBA on NBC, as theme music during coverage of the basketball tournaments.[67]

NBC has utilized other popular music during its Olympics coverage as well. Phillip Phillips' "Home" was used for a segment introducing women's gymnastics at the 2012 Summer Olympics; the segment rejuvenated interest in the song, causing it to re-enter the Billboard Hot 100, and eventually peak at #9 (marking the first time a song had ever made two separate top 10 runs on the Hot 100 in a single calendar year).[68][69][70][71] Prior to the 2016 Summer Olympics, NBC released a promotional video with Olympics highlights set to Katy Perry's recently released single "Rise".[72][73] "This Is Me" from the soundtrack of The Greatest Showman was also used during NBC's coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics.[74]


Accusations of bias

While every respective country's broadcast is biased towards the home athletes to a certain extent, NBC has faced scrutiny for focusing more on American athletes and less on other athletes from other countries win medals, especially during the network's tape delayed primetime coverage. This has proven to be unfounded and indeed NBC has been considered more inclusive of other countries' athletes than other countries' Olympic broadcasters. NBC's focus on U.S. athletes has been the subject of a series of studies which have shown NBC places a heavier emphasis on U.S. athletes during the Summer Games than during the Winter Games.[75][76][77] When the NBC 2014 primetime Olympic broadcast was compared to those broadcast in Canada by the CBC, it was determined that CBC placed more emphasis, by a statistically significant margin, on Canadian athletes than NBC placed on U.S. athletes.[78] Furthermore, such countries as Russia (broadcasters Channel One and Match TV), focus solely on its own athletes, ignoring events where they do not participate.[79] By contrast, NBC often devotes considerable coverage to favorite foreigners such as Usain Bolt.[80]

Tape delay and formatting of coverage

NBC's tape delayed primetime coverage has faced major criticism for many years. Unlike live coverage where viewers can see the events uninterrupted in real time, NBC's tape delaying practices allow for cutting away to commercials and inserting segments profiling American athletes participating in the respective event being shown, which adds even further delay. In 1992, Terry O'Neil, then-executive producer of NBC Sports, coined the phrase "plausibly live" to describe their practice of making the taped broadcasts appear as if they were being aired live.[81]

During the 2000 Summer Olympics, every event shown on NBC and its cable channels was shown on a tape delay due to the time difference between the United States and Sydney, Australia, with the exception of the Men's Gold Medal basketball game.[82][83] The massive tape delay led to heavy criticism, as some events aired some 16 hours after they were completed, which gave would-be viewers more than enough time to learn the results themselves from competing outlets (including, ironically, NBC's morning show Today). Indeed, early numbers showed Sydney to be one of the lowest-rated Olympics in the United States since Mexico City in 1968, and 21% lower than 1988—the next most recent games to have been held in late-September rather than July and August. Due to the scheduling, the Games also had to compete with a busy period for domestic sports, including the start of the NFL and college football seasons (a Monday Night Football game was only barely beaten by Olympics coverage one night), and the final weeks of the Major League Baseball regular season.[84][85]

Because of these tape delay and editing practices, and NBC Sports executives' responses to these criticisms, they have been accused of treating the Olympics more like reality television, as opposed to a conventional telecast of sports.[6][86][87] For example, during the 2012 Summer Olympics, NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus stated that the reason why they cut from their primetime coverage Russia's Ksenia Afanasyeva's fall during the women's gymnastics artistic team all-around was "in the interest of time". However, The New York Times noted that Afanasyeva's entire routine was only 1 minute and 38 seconds long, and critics claimed that the real reason for the edit was to create drama and uncertainty over whether the U.S. team would defeat the Russian team in the final round.[86] And during the 2014 Winter Olympics, NBC continued to promote for its primetime coverage Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko at the men's singles event even though he had to withdraw hours earlier due to injury.[88]

During a press event held before the 2016 Summer Olympics, chief marketing officer John Miller addressed the formatting of its primetime coverage, stating that the Olympics were "not about the result, [but] about the journey. The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch the Games than men, and for the women, they're less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It's sort of like the ultimate reality show and mini-series wrapped into one."[89] Miller's remarks were ridiculed by the media: Linda Stasi of the New York Daily News considered Miller's statement to be "sexist nonsense" and representative of a "pandering, condescending view of the millions of women viewers".[90] Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post admitted that NBC had often been successful with its "packaging" of the Olympics, and that it was "not inherently sexist for them to say that women have some different viewing habits and interests than men". At the same time, she argued that it was "insulting" for NBC to cater its tape-delayed broadcasts towards a "Ladies' Home Journal crowd", as it alienates conventional sports fans, and harmed the ability to grow a year-round audience for both women's sports and Olympic sports.[91]

In an interview with Slate, former NBC personality Dwight Stones stated that he had left the network due to a history of conflicts with producers over the direction of its track and field coverage. In particular, Stones stated that NBC's producers had downplayed field events because track events were easier to "package" due to being more consistent in their structure. He went on to argue that "Field is 50 percent of the name and 43 percent of the events. And for it to be ignored and belittled the way it has been at the network of the Olympics for the United States through 2032 is a disgrace and a disservice. And I don't see it changing anytime soon with the people that are running that place and the people that are producing the sport."[92][93]

Reeves Wiedman of The New Yorker argued that NBC's style of coverage focuses too much on the athletes as characters, rather than on the technical aspects of sports that are not typically prominent on U.S. television outside of the Olympics. In particular, he explained that coverage of gymnastics was "hindered by an outdated image of gymnasts as teen-age pixies bouncing around the screen" and "encourages us to look at swimmers as some of the world's premier athletes, and the gymnasts as the world's most coordinated beauty-pageant contestants". Wiedman added that "the idea that viewers staying up late into the night to watch a sport they barely understand have little interest in learning more about it seems wrong-headed", and that "only a very small number of Americans can tell the difference between a Produnova and an Amânar" or know that coaches "pore over the [IFG] Code with the same zeal that Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots' head coach, scours the NFL rule book for trick formations that push up against the boundary of the sport's regulation".[94]

Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times described NBC's coverage this way:

NBC's approach would be like waiting until 8 p.m. to broadcast a [Seattle] Seahawks game against the New England Patriots that happened at 1 p.m. Then, showing only select snippets from each quarter, interspersed with soft features of [Seahawks quarterback] Russell Wilson and [his wife] Ciara, and [Patriots quarterback] Tom Brady and [his wife] Gisele walking hand-in-hand down a beach with Mozart playing in the background.[95]

On the other hand, under NBC's influence, some marquee events have been deliberately scheduled to allow live broadcasts in U.S. primetime, regardless of the local time where the Games are actually held.[96] This phenomenon has been apparent in Olympics held in Asia-Pacific countries, where marquee events such as swimming (in 2008 and 2020) and figure skating (in 2018 and 2022) were held in the morning rather than the evening. Athletes were required to adjust to these changes, especially if they practiced in the morning, while the scheduling of swimming in 2008 drew the ire of the BBC—as they fell in the early-morning hours in the United Kingdom.[97][7] Some events at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro were scheduled as late as 11:00 p.m. or midnight Brasília Time (which is an hour ahead of Eastern time), to accommodate both NBC and Rede Globo—the main Brazilian rightsholder. Globo had deliberately chosen not to preempt its primetime telenovela lineup during the Olympics, as they are the highest-rated programs on Brazilian television.[98][99][100][101]

2010 Winter Olympics

Although the 2010 Winter Olympics were being held in Vancouver—located in the Pacific Time Zone, which is three hours behind the Eastern Time Zone, as previously done with their Olympic coverage, NBC delayed the broadcast of high-profile events held during the day to air in prime time. As a result, almost none of the popular alpine events were shown live.[102] NBC executives explained that this was done because of the higher viewership with coverage in the evening hours. Nevertheless, the 2010 Winter Olympics were assumed to be a financial disaster for NBC, as the network was expected to lose about $200 million after overpaying for the broadcasting rights.[103]

This tape delay practice, even for major events, became increasingly frustrating with viewers, especially with the increased usage of social networking and websites (including the official Vancouver 2010 site and NBC's Olympic website) posting results in real time.[104] This especially held true for viewers in the Pacific, Mountain, Hawaii and Alaska Time Zones, where events were delayed even further by three to six hours or more.[105] The usage of tape delays were particularly frustrating for those in the Pacific Time Zone, as Vancouver not only lies in that time zone, but is in extremely close proximity to the United States – just north of the United States border (with Vancouver being an approximately 2½-hour drive from Seattle). As a result, NBC was just beginning its coverage of the games at 7:30 PM Pacific time in Seattle while the actual ceremony was deep into the artistic portion of the event.

As a result, these practices spurred outrage from viewers and media analysts voicing their opinions on the internet and even raising concerns from politicians.[106] This controversy came mere days following the controversial resolution of the 2010 Tonight Show host and timeslot conflict, which further damaged NBC's already broken image.[107]

In the past, American viewers who lived close to the Canada–US border were able to get around waiting for NBC to air an event by watching Olympic coverage on CBC Television. However, rights to the 2010 games in Canada moved over to CTV, which was not available on many cable systems in the northern U.S. due to programming redundancies during primetime between CTV and the American broadcast networks.[108]

2012 Summer Olympics

At the 2012 Summer Olympics, NBC offered live streaming coverage on its Olympics website through a partnership with YouTube, which provided the opportunity to see all events live.[109] NBC also used a mixture of live and tape delayed coverage for its television broadcast due to London being five hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone. Events contested earlier in the day were able to be shown live on one of the NBCUniversal-owned cable networks. However, events that traditionally draw better ratings, such as swimming, artistic gymnastics, and track and field, were still tape delayed and aired during prime time on NBC. Those events drew their traditionally high ratings, but arguments were lodged about not having the option to watch these events live on television.

Furthermore, members of the U.S. Military were forced to watch the delayed NBC feed despite being within a few hours of the time zones of the event. American Forces Network was contractually hindered by Department of Defense regulations only allowing American feeds of broadcasts to ensure a feel of the broadcast that could be had in the U.S. Additionally, AFN had an agreement with the International Olympic Committee and NBC to only use NBC feeds of the event. Many soldiers in Europe felt slighted by the delays, given comparable local country stations aired the Olympics live on public television feeds as some events aired late at night or early in the morning on AFN.[110]

In a Gallup Poll held during the 2012 Olympics, many indicated that they did not mind the tape delaying for the nighttime window. However, the complaint lodged by the subjects in the poll was that NBC should show the events live on one of their networks, as well as show it in prime time on NBC.[111]

2014 Winter Olympics

For its coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics, NBC streamed every competition live. However, only existing cable and satellite customers, subscribing to packages that include NBC's sister cable networks could access the service.[112][113] The Canadian Press reported that frustrated viewers were purchasing VPN services to access Canadian IP addresses so they could stream CBC Sports' live coverage instead (which is normally free for those in Canada).[114]

This time, some events that traditionally draw higher ratings were first aired live on one of NBC's sister cable networks (such as NBCSN), and then a tape-delayed version was broadcast on NBC in primetime. For coverage of the popular figure skating events, there were two sets of commentators: Terry Gannon, Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir announced NBCSN's live broadcast; and Tom Hammond, Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic anchored the tape-delayed coverage on NBC. Invariably, comparisons were made between the two announcing teams; the NBCSN team of Weir and Lipinski received critical acclaim, and were ultimately named NBC's lead commentary team for figure skating later that year.[115][116]

NBC was criticized over the way its tape-delayed primetime coverage handled the news of Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko's withdrawal from competition due to injury. Hours after he announced his withdrawal, NBC continued to air promotions for its primetime show still stating that he would skate in the event.[117][118]

2016 Summer Olympics

Variety specifically criticized NBC for its tape delay practices in regards to the Women's artistic team all-round competition in its primetime broadcast, having effectively relegated most of the competition to air past 11:00 p.m. ET/PT, barring a short portion focusing on the vault and uneven bars events at the top of the primetime broadcast, in favor of the swimming competitions of the night. It was noted that "in the midst of a highly anticipated story that had already been ruined for many viewers via the Internet, it felt egregious to push the biggest story of the night to past 11 p.m.", and that NBC was trying to "juice the numbers" by doing so.[119]

2018 Winter Olympics

On March 28, 2017, NBC announced that it would air live coverage in primetime for the 2018 Winter Olympics across all time zones, citing the "communal experience" and the ubiquity of social media as justification for this change.[38]

The Asian American Journalists Association, among other Asian groups, has criticized NBC for officially having its announcers deliberately use an incorrect pronunciation of the host city Pyeongchang (by pronouncing the "-chang" like "bang" instead of correctly saying it like "chong") because, according to Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports, this incorrect pronunciation is "cleaner".[120][121]

The top anchors of NBC News were also sent to cover the Olympics, which meant that they were unable to cover the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida which occurred on February 14. Therefore, while rivals ABC News, CBS News, CNN and Fox News were able to send their top anchors and reporters on-site to cover this domestic breaking news story, NBC News had to send relatively unknown reporters to cover the shooting.[122][123]

Opening and closing ceremonies

NBC has repeatedly received criticism for how it broadcasts the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics, including its frequent refusals to broadcast them live in any form (including online stream) by citing the requirement to add "context" to the telecasts,[89][124][125] the removal of ceremony content from these tape-delayed broadcasts,[126][127][128][129] as well as the quality of their on-air commentary.[130]

2010 closing ceremony

During the closing ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics, NBC went into an intermission of coverage at the end of the cultural section at 10:30 p.m. ET to broadcast the premiere episode of The Marriage Ref, and broadcast the remaining portion of the ceremonies on tape delay at 11:35 p.m. after late local newscasts.[131] This spawned outbursts from upset viewers, especially on Twitter.[126]

During the remaining portion after the "intermission," several performances were also cut, including French Canadian singer Garou's performance of Jean-Pierre Ferland's "Un peu plus haut, un peu plus loin"; three minutes of commercials were shown in place of his performance.[132]

2012 opening ceremony

NBC faced a barrage of criticism following its broadcast of the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony. British news media lambasted NBC's decision to cut a tribute to the victims of the July 7, 2005 London bombings, calling it an "outrage."[127] In response to the criticism, NBC spokesman Greg Hughes said:

The commentary – particularly that of Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer – was also criticized as "ignorant" and "banal". They admitted to not knowing who World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee was, mistakenly claimed that the actual Queen of England had parachuted into the stadium with James Bond (as opposed to a body double), and described Madagascar as "a country associated with a few animated movies". Australia was introduced as a former penal colony, and a joke about the former despotic dictator, Idi Amin, was used to describe Uganda by Bob Costas. Kazakhstan was introduced with comments about the March 2012 incident at the H.H. The Amir of Kuwait International Shooting Grand Prix in Kuwait, in which the mock Kazakhstan anthem from the film Borat was mistakenly played for gold medallist Maria Dmitrenko, and another Eastern European country introduced as having no chance of winning medals in that year's Olympics.[130][134][135][136][137]

NBC also found itself on the defensive over its tape-delayed broadcast of the Opening Ceremony. American viewers took to Twitter to express their dismay at having to wait 3½ hours (6½ hours in the Pacific Time Zone) to see the opening event of the London Olympics.[138] Most of the Twitter posts centered around NBC not offering online streaming of the Opening Ceremonies for U.S. viewers who wanted to watch the event live.[139] Americans were forced to watch online streams of the ceremonies provided by either the BBC or CTV if they elected to watch it live. These failings were picked up during the NBC broadcast by Twitter users with the hashtag #nbcfail.[140]

NBC spokesman Christopher McCloskey said:

Despite these issues, the Nielsen ratings for the coverage set a record for an Olympics held outside of the United States. The ceremonies drew a 23.0 rating, which was a 7% increase over the 2008 Opening Ceremony in Beijing.[141]

2012 closing ceremony

Due in part to lingering criticism from social media outlets like Twitter, NBC made a last-minute decision to reverse course and stream the closing ceremony live on NBCOlympics.com.[142] However, when it aired on television, the ceremony was heavily edited for time. The ceremony in London lasted three hours, eight minutes and ten seconds; NBC's broadcast of the closing ceremony, by comparison, featured more than 51 minutes and 23 seconds of cuts – 27% of the entire closing ceremony, including the medal ceremony for the men's marathon, a tribute thanking the Olympic volunteers, a ballet sequence featuring Darcey Bussell that accompanied the extinguishing of the Olympic flame, and musical performances by Muse, Kate Bush and Ray Davies.[129][143]

In addition, the ceremony was preempted before The Who's performance, in order to air a sneak preview of the sitcom Animal Practice and late local newscasts. Again, American viewers expressed their dismay using social media.[128] Bob Costas himself criticized the decision when appearing on TBS' Conan in September 2012: "So here is the balance NBC has to consider: The Who, Animal Practice. Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend -- monkey in a lab coat. I'm sure you'd be the first to attest, Conan, that when it comes to the tough calls, NBC usually gets 'em right.".[144]

2014 opening ceremony

Ignoring past criticisms, NBC again tape-delayed the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, and refused to broadcast it live on any platform. NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus explained that the delay was so they could "put context to it, with the full pageantry it deserves".[124]

NBC's most significant cuts included the removal of the taking of the Olympic oaths, and an entire passage discussing discrimination and equality was removed from IOC President Thomas Bach's speech.[145][146]

2014 closing ceremony

Like in 2012, NBC streamed the closing ceremony in Sochi live on NBCOlympics.com,[147] but also cut several portions during its tape-delayed primetime telecast. This time, NBC decided against interrupting its coverage midway through the ceremony like it did in 2010 and 2012, and instead aired its scheduled sneak preview episode of the sitcom Growing Up Fisher after the broadcast at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time.[148] However, that meant that NBC only scheduled a two-hour window for their tape-delayed coverage of the ceremony, between a 90-minute documentary on Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan that aired from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Eastern, and the Growing Up Fisher preview.[149]

2016 opening ceremony

Although NBC promoted that the 2016 Summer Olympics would feature more live coverage than previous years due to the fact that it occurred in a location that is only one hour ahead of the Eastern Time Zone, NBC continued with its previous practice of tape delaying the opening ceremony. It began at 7:00 p.m. ET, but was delayed to 8:00 p.m. ET/PT for the U.S. audience, resulting in the ceremony airing on an hour delay on the east coast, and a four-hour delay on the west. NBC cited a need to provide "context" for the ceremony's contents, as the network viewed the opening ceremony to be an entertainment event rather than sports content.[89][150][151][152][153]

NBC was ultimately criticized for this tape delay, as well as the large amount of advertising it aired (which the Los Angeles Times argued was the actual reason for the delay); Mediaite calculated that it had aired six breaks amounting to 14 minutes of commercials in the first 40 minutes of the ceremony alone.[154][155]

Unlike in 2012, viewership for the opening ceremonies via NBC went down to an average of 19.5 million viewers between 8 and 11 PM, a 32% decrease.[156]

2016 closing ceremony

The closing ceremony in Rio was also tape-delayed to 8:00 p.m. ET/PT, preceded by an hour-long recap show (Rio Gold).[157] Similarly to Sochi, the closing ceremony's lead-out—a preview of the eleventh season of The Voice, aired at 10:30 p.m.[158]

At least 38% of the ceremony was cut from the NBC broadcast, including portions of the entry of athletes (although Deadspin noted that this portion took "a really, really long time"), a three-minute long montage of highlights from the Games, the medal presentation for the Men's marathon (despite American athlete Galen Rupp having won a bronze medal in the event), the inauguration of new IOC members, and a speech by organizing committee president Carlos Nuzman.[159]

2018 opening ceremony

For the first time, NBC announced that it planned to offer a live stream of the opening ceremony. Mark Lazarus cited the ongoing criticism of NBC's decisions to tape delay the ceremonies, as well as changing "consumer behavior", as justification for the decision; Pyeongchang is 14 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Time. The NBC network, however, carried its traditional tape delayed broadcast in primetime, without any additional tape delays to other time zones west of Eastern Time.[160] 23 minutes were cut from the tape-delayed broadcast, including an introductory montage, the processions of the Olympic and South Korean flags, the speech by host committee president Lee Hee-Beom, portions of Thomas Bach's speech, a montage of the torch relay, and others (although it was also noted that seven minutes of coverage was devoted to the entry of the U.S. delegation).[161]

During the parade of nations, NBC commentator Joshua Cooper Ramo described Japan as "a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945", but "a cultural and technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation." The statement received immediate backlash in South Korea for being insensitive and ignorant to the host nation's ongoing disputes with Japan.[162] NBC issued an apology.[163] Co-host Katie Couric was also ridiculed in the Netherlands, after erroneously claiming that the Dutch succeed in speed skating because residents skate on the canals in Amsterdam when they freeze over.[164]

2018 closing ceremony

Like its previous coverage, NBC had a live stream of the closing ceremony without any commentary, and then its traditional tape delayed coverage in primetime, without additional tape delays to the other time zones west of Eastern Time.[165] Forty percent of the closing ceremony was cut from its tape-delayed broadcast, including a three-minute long montage of highlights from the Games, the medal presentations for the men and women's cross-country skiing marathons, the raising of the Greek flag, the speech by host committee president Lee Hee-Beom, a portion of Thomas Bach's closing address honoring athletes from each Olympics-participating continent (which included U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn, and popular Tongan athlete Pita Taufatofua, and most of the musical finale.[166]

2012 Paralympics

Despite the 2012 Summer Paralympics being a breakthrough games for international media coverage, helping significantly boost overall audience shares for British broadcaster Channel 4 and Australia's ABC,[167][168] no Paralympics events were shown live on television in the United States. International Paralympic Committee President Philip Craven criticized North American broadcasters, and NBC specifically, for having fallen behind the times[169] and said that the International Paralympic Committee would scrutinize its broadcast partners more carefully in the future. "If the values fit, we've got a chance. If they don't we'll go somewhere else," he said.[170]

In September 2013, NBC subsequently acquired the rights to the 2014 and 2016 Paralympics, and announced plans to air a combined 116 hours of coverage from both Games. Craven praised NBC's decision to devote a relatively larger amount of airtime to future Paralympics, sharing his hope that U.S. audiences would be "as captivated and emotionally enthralled as the billions around the world who tuned in to London 2012 last summer."[171]

Other criticism

2014 Winter Olympics

On February 16, 2014, reporter and former women's silver medalist Christin Cooper received criticism for her interview with Bode Miller after his bronze medal win in the men's super G alpine skiing event. During the post-event interview, as Miller became increasingly emotional, Cooper repeatedly questioned him about his late brother Chelone, who had died the previous April at the age of 29, until Miller broke down in tears and was unable to continue the interview. For her pressing of the issue, Cooper was described as having badgered Miller. NBC also received criticism for keeping the cameras on Miller, who sagged on the railing and cried without speaking, for more than a full minute, despite having had several hours in which to edit the footage before airing it.[172][173] Later that evening, Miller tweeted his fans should "be gentle" with Cooper, as it was "not at all her fault," and "she asked the questions every interviewer would have." The following morning on Today, Miller reiterated his support for Cooper, saying, "I have known Christin a long time, and she's a sweetheart of a person. I know she didn't mean to push. I don't think she really anticipated what my reaction was going to be, and I think by the time she realized it, it was too late. I don't blame her at all."[174]

Matt Lauer, who had been filling in for Bob Costas while the latter was ill, had engaged in inappropriate and unwanted sexual behavior with subordinates during the Games. This was one of the factors that led to his termination from NBC on November 29, 2017.[175]

2016 Summer Olympics

On August 16, 2016, Boxing analyst Teddy Atlas accused NBC of deliberately "hiding" boxing competitions in Rio in an effort to hide suspected corruption by AIBA—the sanctioning body of boxing at the Olympics. He cited limited coverage as part of NBC's televised broadcasts, as well as the network's refusal to invite him back, after having called out questionable officiating during a controversial bout between Magomed Abdulhamidov and Satoshi Shimizu in 2012.[176][177][178] The next day, it was reported that AIBA would remove several referees and judges from the competition under suspicion that they were not making decisions "at the levels expected".[179]

As Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú won a gold medal and broke a world record during the 400-meter individual medley, Dan Hicks credited a man as responsible for breaking the world record and winning the gold medal. There was no reference to who the "man" was, although some on social media angrily speculated that Hicks was alluding to Katinka Hosszú's husband, Shane Tusup (who was also the coach of the Hungarian Swimming Team). The comment from Hicks was criticized as sexist.[180] Hicks later said "It is impossible to tell Katinka's story accurately without giving appropriate credit to Shane, and that's what I was trying to do." He also added that "with live TV, there are often times you look back and wished you had said things differently."[181] The next day, Al Trautwig, was criticized for stating incorrect information about the parents of gymnast Simone Biles. On air, Trautwig stated that Ron Biles and Nellie Biles are Simone's grandparents that adopted her and her sister in 2001. Later on, Trautwig tweeted that Ron and Nellie were actually her parents, to which fans on Twitter started the hashtag, #FireTrautwig.[182][183] Trautwig later apologized, stating "I regret that I wasn't more clear in my wording on the air. I compounded the error on Twitter, which I quickly corrected. To set the record straight, Ron and Nellie are Simone's parents."[184]

On August 9, some viewers became upset on Twitter after commentator Cynthia Potter failed to mention that British diver Tom Daley was a well known gay athlete, as Potter was focused on the replays. NBC later made a statement to The Advocate that "with more than 11,000 athletes at the Games, it isn't always possible to identify every competitor's significant other, regardless of their sexual orientation."[185][186] Later, the partner of Brazilian volleyball player Larissa França, Liliane Maestrini, was referred to by commentator Chris Marlowe as her "husband". It led to confusion and dismay for some viewers as Larissa and Liliane are both female and are a same-sex couple. NBC later apologized stating that "Liliane is Larissa's wife."[187][188]

2018 Winter Olympics

Bode Miller was criticized for on-air remarks about Austrian skier Anna Veith, suggesting that her marriage to Manuel Veith was affecting her performance.[189]

During the Women's super-G competition, NBC prematurely cut away from the competition to return to figure skating, while commentators acknowledged on-air multiple times that Veith had won the gold medal. However, snowboarder Ester Ledecká would overtake Veith in an upset victory, beating her by one hundredth of a second. Ledecká had recently begun a career in alpine, and had been considered an underdog in the competition. NBC eventually returned to the event to report on the final result, with commentator Dan Hicks remarking "Well, these are the Olympics, and anything can happen."[190][191]

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Preceded by
ABC (1968)
U.S. Winter Olympics Broadcaster
NBC Sports

Olympics on NBC (1972)
Succeeded by
ABC (1976–1988)
Preceded by
CBS/TNT (1992–1998)
U.S. Winter Olympics Broadcaster
NBC Sports

Olympics on NBC (2002–)
Succeeded by
Preceded by
CBS (1960)
U.S. Summer Olympics Broadcaster
NBC Sports

Olympics on NBC (1964)
Succeeded by
ABC (1968–1976)
Preceded by
ABC (1968–1976)
U.S. Summer Olympics Broadcaster
NBC Sports

Olympics on NBC (1980)
Succeeded by
ABC (1984)
Preceded by
ABC (1984)
U.S. Summer Olympics Broadcaster
NBC Sports

Olympics on NBC (1988–)
Succeeded by
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