For the first time during a Winter Olympics, NBC has opted to air live figure skating during the daytime while continuing to provide tape delayed coverage in primetime. And instead of using just one announcing team for both dayparts, NBC is using two different teams.
For the live coverage on NBCSN, the Peacock has assigned Terry Gannon, Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir to call all of the skaters.This is the first time for Gannon, Lipinski and Weir on an Olympiad. In primetime, NBC utilizes the venerable tandem of Tom Hammond, Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic, a team that has been together dating back to the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Because there are two production teams providing two different feeds for NBC, we can provide a comparison on what is seen live and in primetime.
NBC has decided to provide live coverage of figure skating not just online, but on television as an offshoot of what it started to do for the London Games in 2012 when it streamed all of the events live. NBCSN has reaped the benefits with a viewership record on Saturday for the team event when an average 4.9 million viewers watched (broken the following day by live ski jumping).
NBCSN is utilizing the world feed from Olympic Broadcasting Services as well as its own cameras for the live production.
As opposed to primetime when just the top skaters are highlighted, NBCSN shows every skater, every group and every pairing. It can lead to a long broadcast, but it appears that viewers are attracted to the live coverage.
NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus says, "I think besides the digital and television virtual circle there, what we’re doing with NBCSN, and specifically with the figure skating where we’re running it in a very straightforward matter with commentary, top feel top to bottom, there’s a huge percentage of people – and it’s early – it’s a huge percentage that are watching again in primetime to see the packaged curated beautiful stories that (NBC Olympics Executive Producer) Jim Bell and his incredibly talented team put together each night."
Bell adds: "I mean, it was a process that we talked about, and took a big leap in London with the live stream, and wanted to continue moving forward and taking another step. Figure skating made the most sense, particularly the Winter Olympics, because it’s a lot of programming. It’s one of the crown jewels of the Winter Olympic sports. It’s great for NBC, NBCSN, and it’s weatherproof. It’s not like any of the other sports up on the mountains, where we could run into some issues there."
Gannon, Lipinski and Weir have been delightful in their calls. They're having fun in the booth plus Lipinski and Weir have been on top of the skaters' elements, telling viewers about jumps, lifts, twizzles and footwork. In addition, Tara and Johnny have also clearly explained what the judges are looking for, how they review each jump, what can be a points deduction and what can be viewed as a bonus.
Gannon and Lipinski have previously worked together on Universal Sports on the World Figure Skating Championships, but Weir is getting his first taste of being an analyst and he has passed with flying colors. Bell told the Associated Press on selecting Weir: "He knows the sport and the competitors thoroughly and is unafraid to offer an opinion. With our expanded live figure skating coverage to include every performance on NBCSN, we are thrilled to have Johnny's perspective on the competition for our audience."
And there's always the mystery of what Johnny is wearing for each session.
Overall, it's led to a big chunk of NBCSN's live coverage that's devoted to figure skating, as much as one-third of its 12 hour live block that begins at 3 a.m. ET. Based on the early ratings, NBC has to be pleased to the reaction not just to the live figure skating, but also to Lipinski and Weir. And it has to give NBC some food for thought about making them the primetime announcing team for the 2018 Olympics.
As mentioned, the venerable Hammond, Hamilton and Bezic are on the call here. Even though the action is on tape, this trio does call the skating live. NBC adds elements like the familiar Olympic "Up Close and Personal" profiles as well as some additional storytelling to add to the drama.
Instead of seeing every skater, we'll see as many as ten, mainly those who have a realistic chance to medal. When a Russian skater takes to the ice, if Russian President Vladimir Putin is in the arena, we'll see several cutaways that weren't shown during the live coverage.
If an American is being showcased, we'll see a profile, a shot of his or her mother in the crowd with some additional personal background given by Hammond and Co. It's the patented NBC formula to make the viewer more familiar with the skater, to make you care about whom you're seeing so you can make a personal connection and root for whom you're watching.
It's a tried-and-true formula that hooks viewers who don't normally watch sports. Hardcore fans might roll their eyes, but based on the ratings, it works and it's why NBC devotes so much time to figure skating at night.
NBC is satisfying two tastes with its two different approaches to figure skating. Those who want to watch live can do so and not have to worry about missing skaters or having long features interrupt their viewing. And the primetime elements give viewers a sense of what happened earlier in the day without having to sit through some skaters they may not want to see.
NBC is giving figure skating aficionados their cake and ice cream as well as some whipped cream on top.