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How Watching The Olympics Will Be Different This Year


All right. So that's the political backdrop for the Olympics, but let's turn to the games themselves and specifically how we will be watching them. NBC is once again covering the Games, bringing us the events, the pageantry, with their athlete biopics thrown in for good measure. The hope is enticing Americans to watch curling or the biathlon rather than the sitcom or drama that competitors are showing in prime time. Here to talk about NBC's plans and challenges is Michael Schneider. He is executive editor of IndieWire. That's a website that covers the entertainment industry. Hi there, Michael.

MICHAEL SCHNEIDER: How's it going?

KELLY: Well, thank you. Let me start by asking about what might be the most visible change. The longtime hosts are gone. We've got no Matt Lauer this year, no Bob Costas, but another very familiar face at the helm.

SCHNEIDER: Yeah. This is a little bit of a reset, but they're going to their past for their future. Katie Couric returns to NBC, a big homecoming for her in hosting the opening ceremonies. This is a big deal for NBC because obviously they've gone through a lot of controversy in recent months with the departure of Matt Lauer, and they're expecting a big reset and hoping to really showcase their new "Today" show hosts as well as their new hosts in prime time.

KELLY: And, presumably, the hope is also that it will remind viewers of the era at NBC pre-scandal.

SCHNEIDER: Those were fine days when they were No. 1 with Katie Couric on top and the "Today" show was dominant. And they're hoping to get a little bit of a bump after the Olympics with their new co-hosts, Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, who will be there firmly hosting the "Today" show, as well.

KELLY: What about the sports themselves? Compared with the Summer Games, some of the Winter Olympic events are less familiar to an American audience. Does NBC have a strategy for getting us all psyched-up for this?

SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Well, you know, traditionally NBC is known for their packages where they go in deep and tell emotional stories about the history of some of the big contenders. They go to their hometowns. And they're real feel-good stories that hopefully will get you rooting for some of the top contenders. The big issue, I think, with NBC this time out is, you know, the most popular sport always at the Winter Olympics is the female figure skating. But this year there isn't an obvious U.S. contender the way there have been at past Winter Olympics. Some of the bigger U.S. contenders are actually from other sports, including Nathan Chen with male figure skating, which traditionally isn't as popular as female figure skating. But I think NBC's really going to try hard to get America rooting for Nathan this time out.

KELLY: Super Bowl viewership was down again this year, and I wonder is that a challenge unique to the NFL, or does that tell us something bigger about Americans and how we are watching these big, live sports events on TV?

SCHNEIDER: You hit the nail on the head, as they say, right there because there's so much choice now. People stream more television than ever. They're watching Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, in addition to all the other channels that offer so much programming now. There are more distractions than ever.

KELLY: So what are the expectations for these games as a TV event?

SCHNEIDER: So I think to some degree, you know, if they get close to the Sochi numbers, they'll be happy. But I think there's expectation that especially because there aren't, you know, those huge front runners, those huge stars that people know about this time, that ratings will be down. And that's a fact of life for every live event now going forward.

KELLY: Before I let you go, what about the other networks' strategies? How are they thinking about counterprogramming against the Olympics?

SCHNEIDER: Yeah. I think the other networks see blood in the water this time out. So CBS, one of their popular reality franchises is "Big Brother." They're doing a celebrity edition this month featuring Omarosa.

KELLY: Former White House aide Omarosa. OK.

SCHNEIDER: Exactly. So there should be definitely some interest there. ABC, their big reality franchise is "The Bachelor." They're having something called "The Bachelor Winter Games," which I guess is a bunch of contestants competing, (laughter) you know, in different events. We'll see how that goes.

KELLY: Wearing ski clothes, we don't know. OK.

SCHNEIDER: Exactly. But of course, there's also so much other content on the streaming services that, yeah, there's more competition than ever for NBC this time out.

KELLY: Thanks very much, Michael.

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely.

KELLY: That's Michael Schneider, executive editor of IndieWire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.