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Steinberg: Olympics still worth watching?

July 28, 2012|By Leigh Steinberg

What has traditionally been the most transcendent event in the world of sports had its Opening Ceremonies in London Friday night and the competition started Saturday.

Over the next 17 days NBC is planning to telecast a record 5,535 hours of Olympic coverage on nine different channels. This will include NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo and the NBC Sports Channel. It will be a multiple platform, digital extravaganza with all of the events available for viewing live online. Laptops, smart phones, and tablets with the appropriate applications will receive the programming. By way of contrast, NBC broadcast 2,000 hours from the 2008 Games in Beijing.

With this unprecedented exposure, will the Olympics retain their impact and relevance?

The Olympics have normally created a global village of billions of viewers sharing the same experience in an intense two-week period. The normal interest of followers of sports like gymnastics, swimming, diving and track and field are eclipsed. Americans who do not normally have much focus on these sports are engaged in massive numbers. One of the stimuli is nationalism, pride in American athletes at a discouraging economic time. The audience consists of many more women than normal.

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Advertisers feel that women are drawn to the human interest back stories about individual Olympians. This is why there will be an unending parade of features on athletes who have overcome hardship and challenge to become Olympic hopefuls. There have been less of these stories and less focus on the individuals competing than in years past. This means that the broadcasts themselves will have to work hard to engage viewers.

These games provide a dramatic opportunity for star building. When the television audiences are large the games transcend the narrow genre of hard-core enthusiasts, and engage the whole country. A dramatic performance combined with an interesting back story can vault an athlete to national prominence.

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