The highs and lows of NBC’s first week of Olympic coverage

The first ten days of the 2014 Sochi Olympics have brought NBCUniversal some highs and lows. There have been ratings and viewership highs like the Opening Ceremony which registered an average 31.7 million viewers and lows like the ratings for NBC's primetime which have been behind Vancouver's numbers in 2010, but mostly ahead of Turin's in 2006.

There have been announcing highs for the Peacock including Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir on figure skating, Mike Emrick on hockey and Leigh Diffey on the bobsled, luge and skeleton. There's been the loud like Chad Salmela on cross country skiing. And we can't forget about Bob Costas' eye infection that dominated social media for the first four days of NBC's coverage.

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So let's look back at NBC's first ten days at the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. 

Bob Costas' Eye Infection

With Costas being the face of NBC's coverage, it was shocking to see his left eye infection on NBC's first night of coverage. He did his best to tough it out, but by Day 3, the pink eye spread to both eyes and became a huge distraction to viewers. It got to the point where he made light of it by downing vodka with Mary Carillo before he took the next six days off to recover. 

NBC tapped Today co-host Matt Lauer to replace Bob for four nights and Meredith Vieira for two. It was interesting that NBC tapped replacements from the news division instead of utilizing one of their hosts from the sports division to sub for Costas. 

However, NBC won't have to worry about finding any more replacements as Costas returns to the Olympics primetime anchor desk tonight. 

Ratings

This has been a mixed bag. NBC's primetime ratings for tape delayed events have been down from the 2010 Vancouver Games which were mostly live, but up from the 2006 Turin Olympics, also delayed. NBC started off well as the night before the official start of the Olympics and the Opening Ceremony brought NFL-type numbers. On the night before the Opening Ceremony, officially known as "Day -1," NBC had a viewership of 20 million. For the Opening Ceremony, NBC saw an average viewership of 31.7 million. It had to give NBC reason to hope that this year's Games would be on a par with Vancouver, but it hasn't materialized.

As the Olympiad has progressed, the primetime numbers have trended downward. They're behind Vancouver, but remain ahead of Turin. However, on Saturday, NBC's ratings fell behind Turin for the first time and if Team USA's performance continues to trail Vancouver, then the numbers could continue to fall in the second week which tend to lag behind the first week in ratings and viewership.

For NBCSN, things could not be better. Its 12 hours of coverage from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET continues to set daily viewership records. It began on Day 1 with team figure skating when 4.9 million people watched. On Day 2, 5½ million viewers witnessed live ski jumping. And the USA-Russia men's hockey game on Saturday became the most-watched hockey game on the network. 

So the NBC Sports Group has to be pleased overall, but it also has to keeping a close eye on the primetime numbers. 

Announcing

The big surprise here has been Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir. And while we've been fixating on their outfits, their figure skating analysis has been a breath of fresh air. On NBCSN's live coverage during midday, Lipinski and Weir have been on-point and very frank on who has been performing well at the Ice Palace and those who have not. They've clearly explained what the judges are looking for and what a twizzle is. Terry Gannon, Tara and Johnny have formed a very strong team to the point where observers are calling for them to replace Tom Hammond, Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic in primetime for the 2018 Games. 

Chad Salmela is working his fourth Olympics for NBC, but he's become a breakout star this year for his enthusiastic and high-octane calls of cross country skiing with Al Trautwig and biathlon with Steve Schlanger. He's also gotten notice from NBC's high-octane Summer Olympics analyst, Rowdy Gaines:

Mike Emrick has been tremendous and this goes without saying. He had a great call of the USA-Russia men's hockey game on Saturday and the USA-Canada women's game last week. Doc can find the most obscure tidbit about a player and make it sound interesting. He's going to have a very busy second week as the men's hockey tournament goes to single elimination.

Rebecca Lowe in her first Olympics has shone brightly. The English Premier League begins NBCSN's coverage in the wee hours of the morning and transitions to either Dan Patrick or Al Michaels. You can tell she's done her homework on the events and has looked comfortable in discussing curling, hockey or cross country skiing.

Leigh Diffey has been a pleasant surprise on the bobsled, luge and skeleton. Diffey comes over from Formula 1 and IndyCar and has called all of the frozen track sports professionally and worked well off with all of his broadcast partners. 

No Live Curling at Midnight

This has been a bone of contention for fans who want to watch curling when the competition begins at midnight ET. Instead of airing matches live on NBCSN, the NBC Sports Group has opted to show them online either on its NBC Sports Live Extra app or NBCOlympics.com. NBC has decided to protect late night on the East Coast and primetime on the West Coast by not showing matches live on cable. Instead, select matches have been delayed until 5 p.m. ET on CNBC which is a bit strange.

Hopefully this won't be a problem in 2018 in South Korea.

Most Bizarre Moments

The transitions on the anchor desk are usually 30-60 seconds of the two hosts bantering and previewing of what's ahead on NBCSN. Last Thursday, Al Michaels and Dan Patrick somehow got to discuss the group Daft Punk. It led to one of the stranger lines that left DP speechless. We're hoping for more of these transitions in the second week. 

This didn't happen on NBC, but we add it here. BBC skiing analyst Graham Bell went down the Olympic men's downhill course holding a handheld camera, but not with ski poles. He did it again later in the week on the men's Super G course, but it wasn't as dramatic as the downhill footage. 

There are seven more days of Olympic coverage. There will be more moments ahead. As usual, we'll be watching. 

Ken Fang

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

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