TODAY'S PAPER

NBC happy as united Korea Olympic team eases tensions

On Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, NBC held a press event at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan to discuss its upcoming coverage of Super Bowl LII and the upcoming Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. On the day when it was announced that North and South Korea would march together in the Opening Ceremony, NBC made a surprise announcement of its own -- Katie Couric will co-host their coverage of the Opening Ceremony with Mike Tirico. (Credit: Newsday / Casey Musarra) (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Many people no doubt were heartened by the news on Wednesday that North and South Korean athletes will march behind a unified flag at the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang Olympics and field a joint women’s ice hockey team.

But among those who greeted it most warmly presumably were NBC Sports executives and their employees, for whom the recent rise in geopolitical tensions in the region...

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Many people no doubt were heartened by the news on Wednesday that North and South Korean athletes will march behind a unified flag at the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang Olympics and field a joint women’s ice hockey team.

But among those who greeted it most warmly presumably were NBC Sports executives and their employees, for whom the recent rise in geopolitical tensions in the region was a potential concern approaching the Winter Games.

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Jim Bell, NBC Olympics president for production, said the diplomatic thaw “has been most welcome, both by the world and our employees, who are in the world.”

Even during the height of the political back-and-forth between North Korea and other nations, especially the United States, late last year, NBC vowed to carry on with its coverage starting Feb. 8 while also protecting its employees.

Speaking at an event in Manhattan Wednesday to promote the Olympics and Super Bowl LII, NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus said “the security of our employees is our No. 1 priority,” and said the network’s experience and connections “has us as prepared as we can possibly be.”

Still, peaceful overtures beat saber rattling in the weeks leading to an Olympics.

Bell said the network will take nothing for granted, because things can change quickly. He said NBC and the IOC are no strangers to pre-Olympic concerns and how to handle them.

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He noted the worries about terrorism in the Caucasus before the Sochi Games in 2014 and about the Zika virus before the Rio Games in 2016.

“The fact is we had no [employees] pull out leading up to these Games,” Bell said. “Everyone was still game to go. We had a handful of people, including some high-profile people, pull out of Rio because of concerns about Zika, which is a very specific fear.

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“But I think this recent temperature-cooling period has been a nice thing. And it also kind of makes it interesting. People are curious. There’s that added factor to it. It’s nice.”

Said prime time host Mike Tirico, “This carries the political relevance of the Olympics to another level . . . At this time, due to the climate, this just adds to the story and adds to the excitement.”

One concern surrounding several recent Olympic hosts that will not be a factor this time is preparedness, or lack thereof. Gary Zenkel, NBC Olympics’ president of production, said the South Koreans are well ahead of Sochi and Rio at this stage.

“You can see the readiness,” Tirico said. “There won’t be any stories of: Will this bathroom work? Those things will be answered for the most part as we get over there.”

During Wednesday’s event at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, NBC announced that for the first time it would offer a live stream of the Opening Ceremony.

At 6 a.m. Eastern Time on Feb. 9 it will stream the world feed of the event as it happens, but with no announcers, then offer a traditional, fully loaded version on television in prime time.

The network was criticized by some for not showing live images of the Opening Ceremony in 2016 despite offering live feeds of all sports competition.

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NBC’s prime time coverage also will be live across all times zones, meaning it will start at 5 p.m. on the West Coast when it starts at 8 p.m. on the East.

While Korea’s time zone is not as TV-friendly for NBC as those in North America, it is far better than those in Europe. The fact that PyeongChang is 14 hours ahead of New York will allow late morning events there to be shown in prime time here.

NBC introduced Katie Couric, a co-host of its “Today” show from 1991-2006, as a surprise co-anchor for the Opening Ceremony alongside Tirico. She has hosted three Opening Ceremonies, but none since 2004.

The network announced it will showcase an episode of the hit show “This Is Us” after the Super Bowl on Feb. 4.

NBC unveiled one of five one-minute-long, Olympics-related ads it will run on Super Bowl Sunday. Two will air during the game itself, in effect costing the network about $10 million apiece in unrealized revenue given that Super Bowl ads are going for about $5 million per 30 seconds.