What explains the difference in the coverage? NBC News says the Games are such an inherently compelling story that its massive commitment is justified.
“The Olympics are, and have always been, a major international event,” said David Verdi, the network’s vice president of worldwide news gathering. “It’s a huge story of great interest to every part of our audience.”
But it might be a little bit more complicated than that.
The differing approaches to covering the Games may provide an illustration of the forces that sometimes shape the TV-news agenda. In this case, what constitutes “news” seems to depend on not just who’s playing, but also who’s paying.
NBC News’s parent company, of course, has a huge investment in the London Olympics. NBC Universal paid a record $2.2 billion to the International Olympic Committee in 2003 to become the “official” American broadcaster of the 2010 Winter and 2012 Summer games. The fee, which was nearly 50 percent higher than NBC’s winning bid for the previous Summer and Winter games, gives NBC the exclusive right to show Olympic events, starting with Friday’s Opening Ceremonies.
This year, as in 2008 and 2010, NBC will televise thousands of hours of the Games on its main broadcast network and on others owned by NBC Universal’s majority shareholder, Comcast, including MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, Telemundo and the NBC Sports channel. Even the Comcast-owned E! Entertainment channel, best known for its Kardashian family reality series,will get into the Olympic act; it will feature party coverage and athlete interviews.
And, as in years past, NBC’s news division will be pitching in, too. In the weeks leading up to the Games, NBC News has offered a steady diet of Olympics-related stories.
“Nightly News,” for example, has covered the Olympic torch relay, reported the results of the Olympic trials in swimming and track, and profiled Olympic athletes. One segment featured a dog crowned the world’s ugliest returning home to Britain “just in time for the London Olympics.”
Meanwhile, NBC’s 10 owned-and-operated stations, including WRC, Channel 4 in Washington, will offer more coverage on their local newscasts. Each of the stations will have its own journalist at the Games; WRC’s Dan Hellie will file stories and features for his station throughout the two weeks of competition.
Critics see another agenda in all this. They suggest that much of this coverage is driven not by newsworthiness, but by corporate synergy, in which the news division generates stories to heighten interest in NBC’s prime-time Olympic telecasts.