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NBC's Olympics: The eyes have it

By David Bauder

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Feb. 23 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

The network streamed all Sochi competition live, more than 1,000 hours compared to three hours in Turin. Some fans were annoyed by a requirement to prove they have cable or satellite subscriptions to watch online, which was the condition providers set to allow NBC to do it. A record was set for most-streamed event three days in a row, topped with 2.1 million streams for the U.S.-Canada men's hockey semifinal.

Creatively, NBC's websites moved beyond straight streams of events. One popular new daytime entry, "Gold Zone," whipped followers from venue to venue for live look-ins, a program modeled after the successful NFL "Red Zone" series.

The websites had occasional navigation issues, but nothing major. "You can be sure if it hadn't worked, we would have heard about it," Bell said. He realized a digital threshold had been crossed when his wife sent him a picture of his teenage son watching the shootout between the Russian and American hockey teams on his iPhone while at a wrestling match, with dozens of people crowded around to catch a glimpse.

The streaming, and the ability of fans to swiftly find results of any competition in a wired world, didn't appear to hurt NBC's packaged highlights in prime-time.

"Even if you know who's going to win, you want to know how," Billings said. "You want to see how it's going to happen."

NBC SPORTS NETWORK

With the daytime figure skating and other events, NBC Universal sought to familiarize viewers with the new NBC Sports Network, and has been excited about the results.

It remains to be seen if the network will have enough compelling programming post-Olympics, but "at least it becomes an 'I know where that is on the dial, let's see what's on' type of channel," Billings said.

SOCIAL MEDIA

NBC established business ties to Twitter and Facebook, but the social media sites have also become the go-to platforms for people who have gripes about coverage. The hashtag #nbcfail, which emerged in the London games in 2012, resurfaced. The biggest ongoing complaint is how NBC packaged the events for prime-time, which is especially noticeable when the time difference prevents the staging of live events.

"If they're able to get through without too much profanity, even if I don't like what they say, I try to respond," Bell said. He's made adjustments to NBC's websites because of suggestions he's seen online.

Twitter is where NBC's bobbles instantly come to light, such as when Christin Cooper's repeated questions about Bode Miller's dead brother brought the skier to tears, taking NBC's "getting personal" production style to an ugly extreme. Viewers also complained about the network offering no live coverage of the opening ceremony and making clumsy edits to fit the time allotted.

Distractions are found there, too, like when ABC's Jimmy Kimmel posted fake video of a wolf supposedly wandering outside American Olympian Kate Hansen's dorm room.

THE HALO

No viewer could miss NBC's aggressive effort to promote other programming through Olympic tie-ins. The most important was launching Jimmy Fallon's tenure as "Tonight" show host. The 8.5 million viewers it averaged during its first week represented the most-watched week for "Tonight" in two decades, since the week of the "Cheers" finale, and dwarfed the audiences of competitors David Letterman and Kimmel, who were both in the two to three million range, Nielsen said. Seth Meyers can only hope for such results when he takes over Fallon's time slot Monday.

The "Today" show beat ABC's "Good Morning America" for the first week since the London Olympics. But there's less chance of a real turnaround there, since the margin of victory was small and due to people who don't watch regularly. "GMA" had the same viewer average the first week of the Olympics as it had the week before, Nielsen said.

Whether it makes a difference with the sitcoms NBC has been touting, only time will tell.

David Bauder can be reached at dbauder@ap.org or on Twitter@dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder .

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