Olympics viewers have more choices than ever

NEW YORK — The Summer Olympics opening ceremony takes place today, but the first of 5,535 hours that NBC is showing of the games began Wednesday with qualifying rounds in women’s soccer. With so many options, viewers need a road map to make sense of it all.

NBC is promising that every competition in London will be available to U.S. consumers live, with the bulk of them seen online.

The centerpiece of the coverage will be NBC’s prime-time show — 8 p.m. to midnight on most evenings — with Bob Costas as host. Given the time difference with England, all of the events will be shown on a tape-delayed basis, although particularly rabid fans will have the opportunity to see each of these events online during the day.

Costas will give people an overview of the day’s big stories. But the prime-time package is not designed to offer a complete picture of the games. As in the past, NBC will be heavy on personal stories to keep non-sports fans interested in strangers they will see competing in sports they rarely follow — with the obvious exception of known personalities such as Michael Phelps. And if you want badminton or boxing, you’ll have to turn elsewhere: the prime-time hours are generally concentrated on the swimming, diving, gymnastics and track and field competitions.

New to NBC this year is the amount of coverage presented during the business day, starting at 10 a.m. following the “Today” show.

The cable and satellite networks will all avoid prime-time hours to funnel viewers to NBC. Except for those hours and during the night in London, a viewer can expect to see competition on NBC and/or cable stations the rest of the day.

The NBC Sports Network, for example, is on the air from 1 a.m. to 4 p.m. PDT Sunday, the second full day of the competition. The cable and satellite outfit did not exist during the last Olympics and will show 292 hours of competition this year. It is being positioned as the home of U.S. team sports. The centerpiece of Sunday’s coverage, for example, is the U.S. men’s basketball team’s game against France.

While producers want the NBC Sports Network to form an identity as a home of U.S. team sports, the truth is that NBC, NBC Sports and MSNBC are airing so much competition that they will lack clearly focused identities. The best way to keep track of their daytime schedules is to keep checking nbcolympics.com.

As it has in the past, the CNBC business network is positioned as the home of Olympic boxing, including women’s boxing for the first time.

Between Saturday and Aug. 3, Bravo will air the Olympic tennis competition.

The amount of hours available to Spanish-speaking viewers through Telemundo also are being sharply increased, and the network promises a broader look at the range of competitions than it has in the past. Still, swimming, basketball and soccer will be the sports the network concentrates on.

Through cable and satellite providers, NBC is running speciality channels devoted to the basketball and soccer competitions. For the first time, the Olympics also will be presented in 3-D with a special channel available to viewers with this technical capability.

With all that coverage on television, NBC will be offering even more online. That represents a change in philosophy; the network once worried that making competitions available online could cut into the number of people who want to watch on television. Now NBC’s leaders believe all the online competition will compel viewers to want to watch more online.

The NBC Olympics Live Extra App gives fans a variety of options, including live streams of what is being shown on the TV networks. Online channels also will be set up to offer coverage of every single Olympic competition taking place, and the Gold Zone will have rapidly moving coverage of the day’s most compelling live events.

To satisfy cable and satellite operators, NBC is requiring viewers to prove that they have a cable or satellite subscription in order to access the online options. This requires a username and password from the companies.

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