"He is a brilliant storyteller and his thumbprints are all over the modern Olympic telecast," said Richard Burton, professor of sport management in the Falk College of Sport at Syracuse University.
So how will NBC fare without its longtime Olympics captain? Ebersol will retain a role as a "senior adviser" but will have no day-to-day oversight.
NBC executives have used the term "muscle memory" to describe how they'll approach covering the games.
"At least with London 2012, I think NBC will stick closely to Dick's past scripts and templates," Burton said.
NBC's Bell hinted at a mix of the customary and the new, with some fresh faces — including the newly signed "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest — joining regular on-air steward Bob Costas.
"You'll see some of the traditional storytelling as we've done in the past with Costas and Mary Carillo's unique take on things," he said. "You'll also see some new faces telling those stories in Ryan Seacrest and John McEnroe, who will each bring their own unique sensibility."
Even so, Bell allowed that Ebersol's absence would be keenly felt — and that may create a big question mark for NBC's Olympics coverage beyond London.
Another Olympic uncertainty? The bottom line.
NBC reported a loss of $223 million on the 2010 Vancouver games, and many experts believe the network could lose millions in London, too. Even so, the company has shelled out $4 billion for the TV rights to Olympics through 2020.
But NBC executives like to talk about the "halo effect" — the burnish that surrounds the Olympics and boosts the network to commanding heights that can't be tallied up on a profit-and-loss statement.
"Nothing better defines the enormous marketing strength of a media company than the Olympics," said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics. "Nothing gathers an audience or pulls more advertising dollars from the marketplace than the Olympics. It's unparalleled."
Independent experts agree, even though the time difference between the United Kingdom and the U.S. will be less than ideal for prime-time broadcasts this time around. When it's 8 p.m. in Los Angeles, it will be 4 a.m. in London — not a favorite racing hour for most athletes. That means many events will either be telecast live at odd times for Americans — or will be on the dreaded tape delay, long after everyone on Twitter has already hashed over the results.
"For London, the delay should not be too bad for the East Coast, but will be more of a factor for the West," Billings said.
Even so, Billings said the games add up to a win for NBC: "They currently are guaranteed 17 consecutive nights of overwhelming ratings wins. No other network can boast that."
Los Angeles Times staff writer Steven Zeitchik contributed to this report.
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