People walk past the National Stadium, also known as the...

People walk past the National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, which will be a venue for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, in Beijing. Credit: AP/Mark Schiefelbein

The Tokyo Olympics last summer were unlike any other for NBC, including the fact they technically were the 2020 Games but were held in 2021.

But the degree of difficulty will be ramped up even higher next month for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

As in Tokyo, the COVID-19 pandemic and the time zone will present challenges, but now add a geopolitical backdrop so controversial it sparked a diplomatic boycott of the Games by the United States and other Western countries.

NBC executives did not hold their traditional pre-Olympics news conference this time, but during a video presentation by executives posted on Wednesday, NBC host Mike Tirico pressed Molly Solomon, president of Olympics production, on how the network plans to handle the political angle.

(Among other things, China has been severely criticized for the treatment of its ethnic Uyghur population.)

"We’re going to be focusing on telling the stories of Team USA and covering the competition," Solomon said, "but the world as we all know is a really complicated place right now, and we understand there are some difficult issues regarding the host nation.

"Our coverage will provide perspective on China’s place in the world and the geopolitical context in which these Games are being held. But the athletes do remain the centerpiece of our coverage."

NBC has hired a journalist and a cultural historian who are experts on China to work with Tirico, and NBC News will be on site to cover potential developments. But politics are not NBC’s only challenge.

There are the familiar time zone gymnastics of a host city 13 hours ahead of New York, and because of the pandemic venues mostly will be empty of spectators and there will be no active NHL players in the hockey tournament.

The pandemic also will keep most of NBC Sports’ Olympics staff – more than 1,000 of them – at its Stamford, Connecticut, facility rather than in Beijing, including the entire roster of event announcers and analysts.

For Tokyo, most events were called off monitors in Stamford. But this time even the most visible ones, such as figure skating, will be. USA Today first reported that development late Wednesday afternoon.

Tirico still is scheduled to host the early part of the Games on site, including the Opening Ceremony, but he will do that job from California on Feb. 11 and 12 before hosting NBC’s Super Bowl LVI coverage on Feb. 13.

In all, NBC Universal plans more than 2,800 hours of coverage from Feb. 2-20.

The Opening Ceremony on NBC and its Peacock streaming service will be shown live on the morning of Feb. 4, then again in prime time that night.

Beijing’s time zone will allow NBC to show some events live in prime time that occur in the morning in China. That includes going immediately from Super Bowl coverage to live bobsled and skating finals in Beijing.

NBC’s broadcast mothership will have 18 nights of prime-time coverage – not including Super Bowl Sunday.

Peacock will stream all NBCUniversal coverage on its premium tier, an important milestone in the "direct-to-consumer" evolution of live sports for pay TV "cord-cutters." and the NBC Sports App will show live events for those who authenticate as TV subscribers.

With NBCSN having ceased operation on Dec. 31, the cable networks for the Games will be USA Network and CNBC.

USA Network will be the Games’ primary cable home, with nearly 400 hours, including all 15 sports. CNBC will have around 80 hours, primarily focused on curling and hockey.

Among the stars NBC hopes will attract viewers are Shaun White (snowboarding), Chloe Kim (snowboarding), Nathan Chen (figure skating), Mikaela Shiffrin (skiing) and the U.S. women’s hockey team.

Four-time Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn will join NBC as an analyst.

NBC Sports chairman Pete Bevacqua said the experience gained covering the Tokyo Games will help navigate Beijing.

As for the challenge of carrying the Olympics and Super Bowl on the same day, he said, "If we can’t get excited for that, we’re probably in the wrong business. So I think it’s fantastic."

The plan for Super Bowl Sunday on NBC is to cover the Olympics from 8 a.m. to noon, then switch to Super Bowl pregame coverage, then go back to Beijing after the game.

Like other networks, NBC has refined and improved its remote production over the past two years.

Said Bevacqua, "Right or wrongly, for good or for bad, we’ve been dealing with live sports during a pandemic for 18 months."

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