COVID, geopolitical concerns make Beijing Games far from joyous for NBC

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From a TV perspective, it feels as if the Beijing Olympics will end with NBC’s host Mike Tirico summoning his inner-Bill Belichick and saying, “We’re on to Paris.”

That is where the network’s next Olympics, the 2024 Summer Games, will be held and perhaps — fingers crossed — we will have controlled the COVID-19 pandemic globally to a point that it will no longer be a dominant storyline.

But it feels as if, for the Beijing Olympics, which are upon us beginning this week, NBC will try to get through them as much as exalt about them. China’s zero-COVID policy means there will be no international fans. Meanwhile, nearly all of NBC’s announcers will be working 7,000 miles away, at the network’s Stamford, Conn., headquarters.

From that distance, NBC will try to navigate the geopolitical questions that plague China. They will likely address to appease critics, which may not satisfy anyone.

But the TV games must go on, because Beijing is one of the stops Comcast/NBC was given on its current 10 Olympic Games deal, which is for $12 billion and extends through 2032.

NBC is going to make an earnest effort to make these games as great as they can be, highlighting Olympic stars, such as Mikaela Shiffrin, Nathan Chen, Shaun White and Chloe Kim. What will you see?

Mike Tirico, front and center

In 2016, Tirico joined NBC to become the new face of its sports division. It is finally, fully happening. This month, Tirico will host the Super Bowl and the Olympics for NBC. Next season, he is slated to take over as the lead play-by-player on “Sunday Night Football.”

This will be Tirico’s third Olympics as host after replacing Bob Costas, who recently described the IOC’s selection of China as “shameless” due to its human rights violations.

Mike Tirico
This will be Mike Tirico’s third time covering the Olympics.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“I would anticipate what they’ll do is acknowledge the [geopolitical] issues at the beginning, and then address them only if something specific that cannot be ignored happens during the Games, which very well may happen,” Costas said on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

Peacock, front and center

NBC apparently agreed to one of the criticisms of its Tokyo Summer Games coverage — it felt like competing in an Olympic event just trying to locate where sports were being televised. Now, the network has said, if you have its direct-to-consumer video platform, Peacock, you will be able to watch everything at any time. They said the navigation will be easy. Making this experience simple will be very important for making the Olympics work for the most loyal viewers.

No outside fans

Due to COVID-19, fans from outside of China will not be in attendance. There will be some Chinese spectators, but it will not have that true Olympic Games feeling. There will be only “selected fans” at events.

NBC will try to be creative with cameras, catching the family and friends of the athletes reacting stateside. It’s not the same, but during the Tokyo Olympics, NBC found some magic moments, such as when it had a camera in place to capture the reaction in Seward, Alaska, when 17-year-old Lydia Jacoby won gold in the 100-meter breaststroke.

No announcers on site

With China’s zero-tolerance COVID-19 policy, NBC decided to not send its announcers to Beijing to call the events. That is not ideal for capturing the emotion of the Games. Without fans in attendance, it will be a challenge to make it feel as big as an Olympics normally does.

Savannah Guthrie and Lindsey Vonn
Mike Tirico will host the Opening Ceremonies broadcast with Savannah Guthrie, pictured here with Lindsey Vonn, who joins the team as an analyst.
NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via

Who we’ll see

Tirico will host the Opening Ceremonies with Savannah Guthrie of “The Today Show.” Andy Browne and Jing Tsu, longtime experts on Chinese and East Asian culture and international affairs, will be part of the Opening Ceremony coverage, as well.

The big addition in terms of analysts is Lindsey Vonn.

Maria Taylor will be a big part of NBC’s coverage. The ex-ESPNer joined the network for the Tokyo Olympics. Taylor will host NBC’s late-night show in the second week after she is a host of the Super Bowl. In the daytime, Rebecca Lowe will handle the hosting duties. On USA Network, Ahmed Fareed will be leading the coverage.

Meanwhile, Snoop Dogg and Kevin Hart are not scheduled to return after working the Summer Games.

Super Bowl shuffle?

NBC also hopes with its coverage of the Super Bowl wedged in between the two weeks of the Games, it will receive a ratings bounce. NBC hopes so, but, afterward it will probably take a sigh and look forward to Paris.

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