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The Olympic torch is tested before the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Olympic Park, Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Pierce: You can watch Olympics live — but not in prime time

NBC will air 1,539 hours on broadcast television, cable TV and live streaming.

First Published Feb 01 2014 12:50 am • Last Updated Feb 02 2014 12:16 am

NBC’s coverage of the Sochi Olympics will span 18 days. If you could record and watch everything on NBC’s broadcast network, cable channels and online, it would take you just over 64 days to watch.

That’s 64 days nonstop. And the folks at NBC are pleased to point out that that’s and more than the past two Winter Olympics combined.

At a glance

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There are three things you can count on when it comes to watching the Sochi Games:

• Every single sporting event will be streamed live at NBCOlympics.com.

• NBC’s flagship prime-time coverage on the broadcast network — KSL-Channel 5 in Utah — will be entirely tape-delayed.

• A loud (but relatively small) contingent will whine and moan about anything and everything NBC does.

There’s a nine-hour time difference between New York and Sochi — 11 hours between Salt Lake City and Sochi — so, yeah, prime time will be tape-delayed. But, again, you can stream everything but the opening ceremonies live.

Because, to the surprise of NBC, live streaming two years ago at the Summer Games turned out to be a good thing.

"I know we had a party line going into London that we were confident," said NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell, "but I would be less than forthright not to mention that I was a little nervous about it.

"What we found in London was that the people who were live-streaming Olympic content during the day on a PC or laptop or a tablet were actually more likely to watch more Olympic television."

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If it didn’t serve NBC’s best interests, would it live stream every event? Of course not. NBC paid $775 million for the rights to the Sochi games, and it will do what is best for NBC.

That’s why if you miss the live stream of an event you’re interested in, you won’t be able to watch it online until after the prime-time telecast.

That’s why coverage of the most popular event at the Winter Olympics, figure skating, will air mostly on the NBC Sports Network. Because NBC is still trying to make that channel a legitimate force in cable TV.

"This is a unique opportunity to build an asset with a sports audience," Bell said, "so we want to take that chance."

In addition to NBC, NBCSN and NBCOlympics.com, events will also be telecast on CNBC, MSNBC and the USA Network.

There is a fourth item to add to the list of things we can count on coming out of NBC’s coverage of the Sochi Games:

• There will be stories about how the ratings are down compared to the Vancouver Games in 2010.

And that’s completely out of NBC’s control. Live Olympics tend to do better in the ratings than taped Olympics, and it was easier to do at least some of the events live on NBC when the Games were in North America.

"Our expectations are that because that was a live Olympics and we’re on tape-delay, that that’s going to be a challenge," Bell said. "But we felt really good about where we are overall with our ratings projections and certainly our sales."

To date, NBC has reportedly sold $1.05 billion in advertising. But when you add approximately $250 million in production costs to the $775 million in rights fees, NBC will have to meet early ratings guarantees and sell more ad time later in the Games to produce a profit.

And what the complainers forget is that NBC is in business to make money.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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