Jim Toellner, the general manager of local NBC affiliate WGRZ-TV, has the optimistic tone of his station’s afternoon program “Most Buffalo” when asked about the subject of viewership for the Tokyo Olympics.
“We think it is going to be big,” said Toellner. “It is kind of the world’s coming out party.”
Since fans can’t come out to arenas because Japan is in a state of emergency due to Covid-19, these Olympics ending Aug. 8 are a made-for-TV event like no other.
There undoubtedly will be a debate over whether putting on the Games under these circumstances is a triumph of money over safety, especially now that Covid-19 has struck the women’s gymnastics team.
It will be curious to see how deeply NBC News will dive into the debate beyond anchors Lester Holt and Savannah Guthrie reporting on the issues.
NBC and its numerous sister channels are primarily in Japan to offer 7,000 hours of coverage of the action. The Games will be on multiple channels for 24 hours a day.
“Looking at the schedules, you’re going to be able to watch whatever you want to watch at any time,” said NBC prime-time host Mike Tirico in a conference call with reporters.
With Tokyo 13 hours ahead of the Eastern time zone, 7 a.m. when “Today” normally airs will be 8 p.m. in Japan and 8 p.m. on the East Coast will be 9 a.m. in Japan.
Tirico and Guthrie will anchor the opening ceremonies live Friday morning on NBC and it will repeat in prime time. The USA team is expected to have about one-third of the normal contingent marching.
In a conference call with reporters, Olympic producer Molly Solomon echoed Toellner’s great expectations. “We really believe the Tokyo Olympics will be the most meaningful games in our lifetime,” she said.
Solomon said there won’t be any artificial crowd noise piped in for competition without fans but added viewers will hear sounds of the Games like never heard before, including splashing in the pool and “intimate conversations between competitors and coaches.”
The plan is to show relatives of athletes who are unable to attend at watch parties back home.
“We’re hoping for some … spontaneous chants of ‘USA, USA!’ to erupt each evening each day as these invested fans band together and support their loved ones,” said Solomon.
Solomon added that there will be two watch parties at the Texas gym of gymnastics star Simone Biles. “The bottom line is if Americans can’t travel to Tokyo, we intend to bring America to Tokyo.”
The pandemic limits the ability to showcase Tokyo. But Solomon said there will be profiles and views of Japan from Mary Carillo, who traveled there two and half years ago.
NBC is often criticized for focusing too much on American stars but that might not be its fault this time because stories about international athletes were harder to do because of the pandemic. Solomon said the network has been working with world broadcasters to get international profiles.
“We have a really amazing piece on Ariarne Titmus that helps frame the USA-Australia swimming rivalry,” said Solomon. “We also found a way to get into Russia over the past two months because (gymnast) Nikita Nagornyy is a huge story that first weekend.”
Few NBC sporting events these days aren’t done without Steve Kornacki, the MSNBC election night star. He will be in Tokyo explaining the makeup of Team USA and trends, all undoubtedly by using numbers.
Speaking of numbers, 250 is the number of prime-time hours that WGRZ will carry over 17 consecutive nights of NBC coverage.
The broadcast network will feature the most popular sports – swimming, gymnastics, track and field, diving and beach volleyball. Its daytime coverage will bounce WGRZ’s “Most Buffalo” off the air for two weeks.
Here’s some more numbers. NBCSN has the most Olympic coverage on any NBCU network at 440 hours; USA Network has 388.5 hours of coverage; CNBC, 124.5 hours in prime time; and the Olympic Channel has 242 hours and will be the home of the tennis and wrestling tournaments. The Golf Channel will carry 111 hours of the men’s and women’s competition.
According to a release, NBC Sports Digital will stream more than 5,500 hours on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app, including all 41 sports and 339 medal events.
Gymnastics fans can follow Team USA’s men’s and women’s gymnasts from apparatus to apparatus on a “Team USA Tracker.”
The Telemundo Deportes website and app will stream all Olympics programming airing on NBCUniversal Spanish-language networks Telemundo and Universo. Telemundo will carry 187 hours of live competitions and daily recap specials, while its cable network Universo will provide 122 hours of live coverage.
NBC Universal also is trying to attract younger viewers with programming on Twitch, which is popular with gamers who are in the younger demographic more likely to enjoy the new Olympic sports of skateboarding, climbing and surfing.
And, of course, Western New Yorkers can watch CBC’s Canadian coverage.
If you haven’t signed up for NBC Universal’s free or paid version of the streaming service Peacock, its coverage should be an inducement.
Most Olympics programming on Peacock will be available free but the premium tier for a price will carry U.S. men’s basketball games. The men’s and women’s gold medal finals air in prime time on NBC on Aug. 6 and Aug. 7, respectively.
Peacock is carrying some of the most popular sports live, including women’s gymnastics and track and field. Women’s gymnastics also will air on NBC in prime time in a more “highly-produced dramatic fashion” that viewers have come to expect.
Rich Eisen will do a Peacock highlight show, “Tokyo Gold,” at 11 a.m. (midnight in Tokyo) after competition ends.
Lindsay Czarniak will host a nightly show, “On Her Turf at the Olympics,” focusing on female Olympians. U.S. women have won more medals than the men the last two Summer Games.
There will be other daily shows on six Peacock linear Olympic Channels, including one show in which Kevin Hart and Snoop Dogg will provide commentary.
The coverage starts in the morning with “Tokyo Live,” co-hosted by Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila from “American Ninja Warrior.” Amber Ruffin, who hosts a late-night show on Peacock, is part of the show.
Kenny Mayne, Cari Champion and Jac Collinsworth will do quick highlights on Peacock for five hours on “Tokyo Tonight” as things happen in prime time. That is a lot of time at “the world’s coming-out party” for Mayne’s trademark sarcasm to shine.