NBC hopes the return of the Paris Olympics will get fans watching again

NEW YORK — When was the last time you cared about the Olympics?

Not only did you know they were happening, or kind of watch them when you had time, but you actually cared. Like millions of Americans did for years when they turned on NBC in prime time, greeted by that grand old music and a view of the host city’s skyline.

If it feels like it’s been a while, it’s not just you. It’s a lot of people, and NBC knows it.

“As customs have changed and society has changed a bit, it’s hard to ‘go away’ for four years and expect people to come back with the same level of passion,” said Mike Tirico, the Olympics’ top host from NBC, to The Inquirer. Wednesday during the network’s preview event.

“The top of the market for about a decade (was), give or take, Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt – two of the best of all time, the likes of which we hadn’t really seen in this kind of modern era of television, (an) era of making stars,” said Tirico. “So that was an adjustment. And the second part consisted of three games in a row in Asia, the last two with COVID and no fans (present) just took the joy and energy out of it.

” READ MORE: Local standouts Nia Akins and Allie Wilson qualify for first Olympic Games in Paris

These were, in order, the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the 2020 Summer Olympics held later in 2021 in Tokyo, and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The time zone difference with Asia never helps, but the last two really felt like something was missing.

That was eight years ago now, in 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. And that feels like a long time.

‘A boost is needed’

NBC hopes this summer will be different. Paris will host Europe’s first Olympic Games in twelve years, with scenes that will be familiar And especially in one of the largest cities in the world.

“I think it’s the perfect time for Paris because Paris is one of two things: either you’ve been there and can’t wait to go back, or you’ve always wanted to go there,” Tirico said. “I think the ability to have 17 days and nights of that as a backdrop is going to create a connection and maybe get more people back into the tent. … I think it needs a boost, and I think it’s going to be in is a pretty good position to get a boost.”

NBC’s main studio set is located near the Place du Trocadéro in the heart of Paris, just across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower. But the indispensable background isn’t the only reason this is the site.

” READ MORE: Sam Coffey is on the US Women’s Olympic Soccer Team, but Alex Morgan is not

“You never get sick of that view, so we knew we wanted to be there,” said Molly Solomon, executive producer of the NBC Olympics. “But we also wanted to be there because it is the heart of the Olympic Games: the stadium for the opening ceremony there, all the road races end there, just like beach volleyball. So we definitely wanted to put our hosts who were in Paris in the heart of the action, and that is the Trocadéro area.”

It also won’t be the first time American TV viewers have seen a network set up shop there for a sporting event. Fox used the same location as a studio base during the 2019 Women’s World Cup, and former Fox World Cup executive producer David Neal previously worked with Solomon on NBC’s Olympic production.

“I had seen what they did and I knew it was a beautiful place,” Solomon said. “So I called David and asked him about it, and he told us everything we needed to do to get this place up and running. He was very helpful in helping us navigate all of this, and I think it’s going to be a beautiful set.”

New and old coverage

There will be more than 7,000 hours of coverage on TV and online streaming, from seven traditional channels to NBC’s Olympic website and Peacock. There will be celebrity correspondents, from Snoop Dogg to Philadelphia native Kevin Hart to Newtown-born Instagram and podcast star Alex Cooper.

There will even be a customizable highlights feature in Peacock, with famed broadcaster Al Michaels’ voice generated through artificial intelligence.

” READ MORE: A Pennsylvania grandmother has a chance to make the U.S. Olympic team in race walking

For the first time, NBC’s major broadcast network will have live coverage all day long on weekdays, not just on weekends. And you don’t have to wait until prime time to see the main events in gymnastics, swimming, track and field, and so on. NBC has promised to air them live instead of holding them for the traditional prime time show.

“We will have more hours on television than ever before,” Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBCUniversal Media Group, said on stage. “That may be surprising, but it is not new to us as broadcasting is such a large and important part of what we do.”

Track in particular could get a boost from that reporting. It has been a sport that has been central to the Olympics since the Greeks started it centuries ago, but has been sorely lacking in star power since Bolt’s retirement.

And now comes American sprinters Sha’Carri Richardson and Noah Lyles, full of talent and charisma. And in Richardson’s case, a huge story: She was controversially excluded from the Tokyo Games when she tested positive for THC, the main ingredient in marijuana, after winning the 100 meters at that year’s U.S. Olympic trials.

“It’s still one of the great events at any meet,” said Tirico, who covered this year’s trials in prime time on NBC last week. “I think having not only great talents but also great personalities in these two events is an added value, and I think they are the real deal in both respects. … It feels like this kind of points the way for American interest in the sport.”

” READ MORE: Kahleah Copper is a member of the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team

This time they mean it

As for the rest of NBC’s outlets, USA Network will provide 24-hour live or delayed coverage of the Olympics during the Games, and events will also be broadcast on CNBC, E! and Golf Channel. Spanish-language coverage will air on broadcast network Telemundo and cable channel Universo.

Everything will be streamed live on Peacock, NBC’s subscription streaming service, and for free on NBC’s Olympic website for verified cable and satellite subscribers. If you have a Comcast Xfinity

During the last Summer Olympics, three years ago in Tokyo, NBC promised to put everything on Peacock but backtracked on doing it all live. This time, Lazarus said, it will all be live – and he made a surprising admission about last time.

“In Tokyo, to be honest, we didn’t do a very good job for our customers,” he said. “We didn’t deliver exactly what we promised and we learned a lot from that. This time everything will be available on Peacock, including some bonus shows and special shows.

One of those shows will be a multi-view of four events at once, curated by NBC to select the most important action of that moment.

” READ MORE: Penn swimmer Matt Fallon earns Olympic bid by winning the 200-meter breaststroke at U.S. Trials