NBC brings Sochi Winter Olympics to life online. . . from Connecticut
Sarah Hughes was getting her hair done Wednesday, preparing to talk figure skating to fans eager to hear what the most recent American woman to win Olympic gold had to say.
Only Hughes, the Great Neck native who won the big prize in 2002, was 5,200 miles removed from the action in Sochi. She was deep within NBC Sports' sprawling, state-of-the-art complex here, closer to Bobby V's sports bar downtown than Vladimir Putin's sports playground by the Black Sea.
"This is our own Olympic Village," Hughes said. "You could pretty much live here . . . The cafeteria -- anything you need -- it's here. It's better than my [Manhattan] apartment."
That's a good thing, because Hughes and many other NBC employees covering the Games on the home front are logging very long hours living in two worlds nine hours apart, in many cases staying in hotels near the facility.
Eric Hamilton, who oversees the Highlights Factory where staffers gather and assemble more than 100 clips a day on more than 100 monitors, likened life in the windowless room to being in a casino.
"You lose track of time," he said around noon, nine hours after the day's action had begun in Sochi.
Hamilton said sometimes he runs into people working on the network's English Premier League coverage, whose schedule is unaffected by the Olympics. "They look much more fully human than us," he said, laughing.
That undoubtedly is so, but there is a clear sense of camaraderie among the approximately 400 members of the U.S.-based NBC crew, most of whom have not seen much more of their families than have their counterparts across the globe.
The Connecticut operation primarily is devoted to NBC's Internet-based content, a component that has grown with each Olympic cycle.
So Stamford is responsible for NBCOlympics.com, including live streams of all events, news updates, an NFL Red Zone-style whip-around show called "Gold Zone," and Hughes' daily 5:30 p.m. show, "Olympic Ice."
Hughes called it a "dream job," a way of being involved in the sport and Games, even though it is taking her away from her regular job helping develop the Kingsbridge National Ice Center in the Bronx.
After watching the skating competition live, she tapes her show, then during the prime-time telecast on NBC does a real-time Facebook chat answering fans' questions.
"It's been fabulous," she said. "I think it's a requirement that you're passionate about the sport you're covering."
The only television coverage that regularly emanates from here is curling. More than three quarters of the announcers calling and analyzing action in Sochi do so from a booth in Stamford. That is a far smaller off-site presence than is needed for a Summer Olympics, which has many more events. In 2012, NBC set up 11 soundproof booths in which announcers in Studio 8H at 30 Rockefeller Plaza called events in London.
Those booths will be back in 2016, but this time in Stamford, where NBC has traded the cachet of using the famed "Saturday Night Live" studio for modern efficiency.
"It's much easier being in a purpose-built facility that had a lot of design elements based on lessons learned," said Tim Canary, NBC Sports' vice president of engineering.
There was a time when being an Internet outpost would have made the work in Connecticut of relatively minor importance. Those times are gone. NBC has said live streaming has only helped its prime-time television ratings.
"We always thought this would prove additive -- and it did," said Tom Seeley, VP of editorial for NBCSports.com.
Thursday's travel-crippling snowstorm only further added to the sense of an immersive Olympic experience among the Connecticut-based Peacocks. Meanwhile, in Sochi, the temperature hit 63 degrees.