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NBC's big hurdle: Shifting from the Super Bowl to the Olympics

NBC is about to make television history when it starts broadcasting the ...

Posted: Feb. 8, 2018 4:46 PM
Updated: Feb. 8, 2018 4:46 PM

NBC is about to make television history when it starts broadcasting the Winter Olympics on Thursday -- less than a week after airing Super Bowl LII.

Never before has a U.S. broadcaster transitioned between these two huge events so quickly.

In fact only one other broadcaster has ever put on the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics in the same year.

CBS did it back in 1992. But it had two weeks between events.

And those Games were a much smaller production. Only 1,801 athletes competed in 57 events at the 1992 Albertville Olympics in France. CBS broadcast the Games on one network.

This year, more than 2,900 athletes will compete in 102 events in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang, and NBC is airing the Games on five networks: NBC, NBC Sports Network, CNBC, USA and the Olympic Channel.

NBC went big on promoting the two events as the "Best Feb Ever," and its Super Bowl coverage was peppered with Olympics commercials, including one featuring Team USA favorite, Lindsey Vonn.

"It's big. You have a lot of people that have historically been singularly focused on an Olympics as it approaches that are now focused on both of these massive events," NBC Olympics and Business President Gary Zenkel told CNNMoney.

About 100 staffers went straight from the Super Bowl to the Games. He said he hoped they got a lot of rest before the Super Bowl because they'd pretty much hit the ground running in Pyeongchang.

The plane took off Monday, arrived Tuesday and crews reported to work on Wednesday.

"Most of these people have done television remote work for a long time, and the Games kick off essentially on Friday so they'll have a day to truly get up to speed and then they're on their way," he said.

In all, NBC has about 2,500 employees in Pyeongchang and another 1,000 working from NBC Sports' home base in Stamford, Connecticut.

Related: Katie Couric returns to NBC to co-host the Olympics

About half of these workers will rent hotel rooms in the Media Village, but some will stay in accommodations closer to specific event venues. Roughly 150 people, who have already been in Pyeongchang for about six months, are staying in longer-term housing like apartments and condos. These people had to be on site earlier to assist in building out studios and to ensure things run smoothly during the event.

While the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee provides food for the athletes and those in the media villages, NBC also brings in caterers to feed staffers during the Games' 18-day run.

"If you figure they're working a 12-hour day, they're getting a decent amount of their food from us. We actually launch an entire catering operation," Zenkel said. "We have kitchens in different locations and bring in a lot of folks that are there to take care of them."s

Related: Team USA's Olympic uniforms are wearable heaters

The Olympics are one of the biggest productions in TV. There are about 13 different venues in Pyeongchang, according to Zenkel.

"It's a monster," he said of the endeavor.

NBC will air more than 2,400 hours of coverage -- the most ever for a Winter Games. There will be 10 days of 24-hour programming, and NBC will feature 89 commentators -- a Winter Olympics-record. It'll also mark the first time Mike Tirico is covering the Olympics.

It wasn't just people traveling to Pyeongchang, NBC had to mobilize a massive amount of gear.

Some of its edit facilities were shipped directly from the Super Bowl to South Korea this week. NBC secured much of the rest of its equipment from Sony in Japan, which helped cut down on shipping time.

In all, 99 shipping containers full of NBC gear traveled to Pyeongchang.

NBC will build three studios and two control rooms in South Korea. The on-site facilities will supplement the five studios and seven control rooms NBC will use in Stamford.

Olympic Broadcasting Services uses 550 cameras to capture the Games. NBC will use an additional 156 cameras for its coverage. It'll have 108 feeds coming back to the U.S. and will lay 127 miles of cable to accomplish that. Two helicopters will provide aerial coverage of certain events.

By comparison, NBC had a 500-person crew and used 106 cameras and 50 miles of cable to broadcast the Super Bowl.

Related: Americans aren't going to the Olympics. Here's why

Zenkel said that -- outside of North America -- South Korea is the most well-prepared country to host the Games and that made it easier for NBC to prepare its broadcast.

The one thing that will likely present challenges is the weather.

"It's consistently very cold there. That's okay everything works in the cold, but you also get high winds and you get snow like at every Winter Olympic venue," he said.

"We have this fantastic schedule, which gives us 18 consecutive nights of live prime-time coverage, but you have events like the downhill in there or the super-G. One night, one of those is no doubt gonna get postponed."

While putting on the Games is a massive undertaking, the work doesn't end with the closing ceremony.

At that point everything that was set up has to be broken down, packed up and shipped back.

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