For The First Time Ever Every Olympic Event To Be Broadcast Live

31 Aug

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NEW YORK — NBC’s Olympic coverage in London will look very familiar, with one major twist.

For the first time, the network plans to show every event live in some form – even if it’s just raw video streaming online. But the prime-time broadcasts will still use that traditional formula of human-interest features and taped competition.

The man behind that coverage will be someone steeped in the NBC philosophy of packaging the Olympics for a wide audience. NBC announced Tuesday that “Today” executive producer Jim Bell would serve in that role for the 2012 Games.

He fills the spot held by Dick Ebersol, who resigned as chair of NBC Sports Group in May. Earlier in his career, Bell was coordinating producer for NBC Olympics under Ebersol.

“That’s what our approach on the Olympics has been and what it will continue to be,” said Mark Lazarus, who replaced Ebersol atop NBC Sports Group. “Having Jim do that for the Olympics assures we’ll have that sensibility.”

Except the prime-time programming bearing that sensibility will no longer be the first opportunity viewers have to watch who wins the gold. Ebersol was adamant even as he left NBC that showing events live during the day would hurt overall ratings.

But to Lazarus, the sports fan of today demands immediacy – and that doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive to highly stylized broadcasts aired when people are most likely to be sitting in front of the TV.

“I believe in that, and that will be some philosophical shift from my predecessor,” Lazarus told The Associated Press.

Next year’s Olympics will test whether those broadcasts will still be highly rated, too.

“You can show things in its rawest form to satisfy that immediacy,” Lazarus said, “and then you can package it and make it a bigger story and broader and more inclusive of other elements, and people will watch it again and bring others with them.”

The blending of old and new with the Olympics is just a piece of the broader evolution at NBC Sports that Lazarus is in the middle of. Comcast took over NBCUniversal in January, bringing new bosses – and the resources of the company’s sports cable networks.

Lazarus, an outsider to both sides, came aboard as president of the NBC Sports Cable Group with the merger. Then Ebersol, the unmistakable face of NBC Sports for more than two decades, left in a contract dispute.

A former president of Turner Entertainment Group, Lazarus was suddenly overseeing a stable that included the traditional broadcast network of NBC; Comcast’s Versus and Golf Channel; its regional sports networks; and digital assets.

Lazarus proudly asserts it’s the only media company with all four sorts of platforms. He believes his status as an outsider makes it easy to think in terms of what’s best for the entire NBC Sports Group, instead of how the cable channels can benefit NBC or vice versa.

But clearly a key cog in the future is Versus, which is already slated for a significant change: its name. It will be known as NBC Sports Network starting early next year. The cable channel is getting Major League Soccer broadcasts, which gives it games in the summer to go with the NHL in the winter.

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