Facebook Twitter

Oly telecasts to get hip new look

SHARE Oly telecasts to get hip new look

If it were up to NBC President Randy Falco, the 82-year-old Olympic motto "Swifter, Higher, Stronger" might include louder and sassier.

In an attempt to draw more young viewers, whose interest in the Olympics has declined since 1988, NBC is planning to overhaul its traditional coverage at next month's Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

"We have to make the coverage relevant to young people," said Falco. "It needs to be faster-paced, edgier, more irreverent. When you heard our old Olympic music, it was a little like walking into a cathedral."

To spruce up its music, NBC hired Neil Diamond and Melissa Etheridge to perform a new version of Diamond's song "America" for the network's Olympic promotions.

The network also is spending nearly $1 million on an ad running in movie theaters touting low-profile Winter Olympic sports instead of marquee events and plans to use videotape shot by a NASA satellite ? first showing earth from space before zooming in on the Olympic Stadium ? in its coverage of the opening ceremonies.

Drawing more viewers under the age of 35 is critical for NBC because they're coveted by advertisers who will spend as much as $600,000 for a 30-second commercial during the Salt Lake Games.

"If you fail to draw young viewers, there will be fewer advertisers interested; it's that simple," said Tom DeCabia, a media buyer with Advanswers PHD in New York.

Although NBC is paying a record $545 million for broadcast rights to this year's Olympics, Falco said the network expects to make a profit of as much as $60 million.

NBC and its cable affiliates, CNBC and MSNBC, will televise a combined 375 1/2 hours of Olympic coverage, more than double the hours CBS and cable channel TNT aired from the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.

NBC has guaranteed advertisers 16.9 percent of the 105.5 million U.S. homes will tune in to its coverage. If it draws fewer viewers than that, the network will be obliged to give away free ads to cover the shortfall.

Falco and NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol agreed to shake things up following the network's taped coverage of the 2000 Games in Sydney, which drew the worst ratings for a Summer Olympics in 32 years.

A report commissioned by Falco showed young viewers weren't as interested in storytelling ? a longstanding NBC tradition ? as they were in event coverage.

"There are a lot of sports, the original extreme sports like snowboarding or skeleton, that have a logical appeal for young people," said David Neal, head of NBC's Olympic production.

Falco said NBC's broadcast of the Games, scheduled from Feb. 8 to 24, will have fewer taped features on athletes than in past Games.

Sportvision Inc. will superimpose a speed skater's nationality over his assigned lane, while Swiss company Dartfish Inc. will allow NBC to show replays of downhill skiers superimposed against the race leader to show where leads might narrow or widen.

NBC isn't the first Olympic broadcaster that's tried to improve ratings by jazzing up its shows. At the 1998 Winter Games, Viacom Inc.'s CBS hired former MTV host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery as an announcer and made shots of the downhill skiing route look like a computer video game.

Yet a half-day time difference with the U.S. East Coast and bad weather contributed to a ratings decline for CBS, especially among young men. The network's coverage from Nagano drew 5.6 percent of males aged 18-34, down from 11.5 percent for the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, which received a ratings boost from the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan drama.

Rick Gentile, who oversaw CBS's Olympic production at Nagano, said trying to bolster interest in young adults may be hopeless.

"It's like taking 'Murder She Wrote' and trying to make it hip," Gentile said. "Some things you just can't do."