For decades, sports that make a splash during the Olympics, such as swimming, diving, gymnastics, track and figure skating, have struggled to sustain interest among casual fans in the 47 months between Games.
The Olympic Channel, which launches on Saturday, will not solve that problem, but the hope among its partners — NBC Universal, the International Olympic Committee and U.S. Olympic Committee — is that it at least will help.
“They don’t walk through a door and compete in the Olympics and walk back through the door and we don’t see them for 3 ½ years; now they have a home,” Mike Tirico, NBC’s new lead Olympics host, said on Thursday at a luncheon in Manhattan to promote the station.
“It’s great for the athletes, great for the fans who come to the Olympic Games but don’t follow these sports as easily in between.”
The channel also bills itself as “Home of Team USA” and will give extra attention to Americans. But it will be global in reach, drawing on the live and archival rights owned by the IOC and/or NBC.
That includes all Olympic events of the past with the exception of a few Games that appeared on ABC in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
To celebrate — and attract some early attention — it will show every game played by the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball Dream Team starting in late August.
“My son is a high school senior,” Tirico said. “Charles Barkley is the guy on TV who’s really funny and all that. But he’s really never seen him play.” Tirico said his son plans to watch next month.
The live events on the schedule this summer include both the world swimming and track and field championships. Some of those sorts of events have appeared on NBC or NBCSN in the past, and executives say they will continue to do so, with the Olympic Channel available for additional coverage.
In addition to live and archival shows, the channel will show original content, including documentaries.
Mark Parkman, general manager of the IOC’s global digital channel, said this is its first partnership to hit traditional television, with the hope of more in other countries.
“We are able to launch a linear channel with our five rings and with the NBC peacock and the Team USA logo,” he said. “It sends a strong message about what we all believe the power of the Olympics brings.”
Jim Bell, NBC Olympics’ president of programming and production, said the tone will be similar to that of NBC’s coverage of the Games themselves.
“This isn’t ‘embrace debate,’” he said, using a term associated with recently deposed Fox Sports 1 and former ESPN executive Jamie Horowitz. “This is embrace your partner. This is embrace the athlete. And this is embrace sports that need embracing outside of that magical two-week window every four years.”
He said debate-oriented programming “often tends to bring out and focus on some of the worst parts of human nature. This is about some of the best parts, some of the best stories, some of the more uplifting stories.”
Gary Zenkel, the president of NBC Olympics’ business arm, said the channel will launch in more than 35 million homes — about a third of the country — including on Optimum, DirecTV and Verizon.
“When you see people compete at the Olympics, win or lose, you get this lull and gap in time about what they are up to or what they are doing,” two-time gold medal snowboarder Shaun White said on a conference call after the lunch. “Like you don’t know what, really, your favorite athlete is trying to accomplish. And then all of a sudden, you see them again and you’re like, ‘Oh, I guess they didn’t retire.’”
The Olympic Channel’s aim is to fill some of that lull and gap.