Forget the figure skating, the ski-jumping and, yes, even the luge. Want to know what a real Olympian feat would be? Try binge-watching all 1,539 hours of NBC's coverage of the Sochi Games.
You heard right: 1,539 hours. More than ever. For comparison's sake, consider that in 1976, when the Winter Olympics were held in Innsbruck, Austria, ABC produced 43 1/2 hours of coverage over 12 days. Those wimps.
Of course, back then ABC didn't have a battalion of cable-channel siblings to lean on, or the Internet. NBC will lather its coverage over not only the main broadcast network (185 hours), but the NBC Sports Network (230), MSNBC (45), USA (43), CNBC (36) and NBCOlympics.com (1,000 hours).
If you do the math — and who really wants to? — it all averages out to more than 85 hours a day for 18 days.
The good news is that savvy viewers will be able to find a wealth of live coverage. So, if you're the type who used to bend over backward to resist “spoilers” during the day until you could race home to watch tape-delayed results at night, you don't have to resort to those crazy tactics.
Sure, NBC's prime-time block will still be prepackaged and tape-delayed. No change there. On the other hand, NBCSN plans to air 12 hours of live coverage, and at least one gold medal final, a day. And, for the first time, every event of the Winter Olympics will be streamed live online.
That's a radical departure from the not-so-distant past when stingy NBC tried to protect its lucrative, advertiser-heavy prime-time schedule by holding back the most popular sports events for the evening, sometimes many hours after they occurred. The network finally figured out that it's silly to limit real-time coverage in an era when Twitter and other forms of social media have trained us to expect news right NOW.
Still, there is one thing that won't be streamed: The Opening Ceremony on Feb. 7. NBC wants to save that for prime time.
“We think it's very important that we package that event with all the Russian culture and history that's being creatively expressed,” says Mark Lazarus, chairman of the NBC Sports Group. “Much of that program might not make sense to viewers without the context that Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira are going to bring to that.”
Speaking of the Opening Ceremony, this year it won't be the first thing NBC televises. Coverage actually begins the day before in prime time with preliminary-round competition in two new events, snowboard slopestyle (men's and women's), and team figure skating, along with women's freestyle skiing.
Security, of course, will be a major concern, as well as the furor over anti-gay legislation introduced in Russia last year.
“We have our fingers crossed that nothing happens,” says Bob Costas, who will serve as the primary Olympic host for a 10th time. “If anything, the prospect of a terrorist event and the controversy over the anti-gay laws, in an odd way, have increased awareness and interest in these games. They don't take the place of the competition, but I think people will be curious about that. And at the beginning, we'll discharge our responsibility in a straightforward way, because framing those issues is part of the backdrop.”
Here's a breakdown of what to expect during the blizzard of Olympics programming:
NBC: The mother ship will provide coverage of the most popular sports, as well as the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Also, brace yourself for lots of heart-tugging, tear-jerking feature profiles.
NBCSN: The channel formerly known as Versus begins live coverage Feb. 8 with hockey. And for the first time, NBCSN will present nearly every figure skating performance, live, during the day. In addition, it will broadcast 10 more sports, including speed skating, bobsled, ski jumping and Nordic combined.
CNBC: If curling is your thing, here's the place to be. The cable business channel network will offer 36 hours of brooms and strange outfits beginning Feb. 10.
MSNBC: The home of Rachel Maddow will give itself over to live hockey on 11 of its 12 days, including medal-round games. Coverage begins Feb. 8.
USA Network: More curling and hockey. Forty-three hours of it. USA's Olympics programming spans nine days beginning Feb. 10.
NBCOlympics.com: Not only will the site provide live streaming of every event, it will feature extensive video highlights, recaps and best-of montages.