NBC's coverage of the Beijing Summer Olympics is all about the numbers. And we're not talking about any of the numbers achieved by the thousands of athletes.

Between the broadcast network, cable networks CNBC, MSNBC, Oxygen, Telemundo, Universal HD and the Web site NBCOlympics.com, there will be 3,600 hours of Olympics coverage.

If you had a way to record it all, that's 150, around-the-clock days of programming coverage for an event that lasts less than three weeks.

According to NBC, that's more than the combined American TV coverage of all the Summer Olympics to date — from CBS's 20 hours from Rome in 1960 to NBC's 1,210 hours from Athens in 2004.

"We're blown away," Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics, told TV critics by satellite link from Beijing. "We're awed by the enormity of what's going to be done here."

TV executives have a tendency to speak hyperbolically, but in this case, Ebersol is right. If you've got access to cable/satellite TV and the Internet, you can watch just about anything you want to watch from Beijing.

The biggest difference this time around is on the Internet, which will feature 61 percent of that 3,600-hour total — 2,200 hours. And there will be a fundamental difference between the function of NBCOlympics.com in the past and this time around.

"It really turns the corner in 2008 and goes from a companion of our broadcast coverage to part of our coverage," said NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel.

The 2,200 hours will include up to 20 concurrent streams featuring 25 sports. Plus, NBC is promising more than 3,000 hours of on-demand replays and highlights, daily recaps, montages, analysis and athlete-specific clips. If that's not enough, how about picture-in-picture, quad-screen functionality and a larger viewing area that will work with any operating system.

That's compared to two hours of live footage four years ago.

"We'll essentially take every sport and offer it on-demand," Zenkel said. "We'll take the best of our television coverage every day and offer it as encores. And, of course, we'll have a huge volume of highlights, all of this at the fingertips of the Olympic fan. And that's what's really revolutionary here for us in 2008 is that the viewing experience of the Olympics is really at the fingertips and at the choice of the viewer."

Sometimes you've just got to use hyperbole because anything else just isn't enough.

NBC is making much of the fact that a whole lot of its prime-time coverage will be live.

There's no way to say for certain exactly how much — because there could be delays at the events for one reason or another — but Ebersol estimated they'd end up with "somewhere about half of prime-time being live, maybe a little bit more, which is really extraordinary."

That also has no bearing on what viewers here in Utah will be seeing. Our prime-time viewing on NBC/Ch. 5 will be tape-delayed from beginning to end.

"It's live on the East Coast and in the Central time zone, which is roughly 81 to 82 percent of all the households in the United States," Ebersol said. " Historically, we have always shown the Olympics on tape on the West Coast (and Mountain time zone)."

NBC has done surveys and analysis that shows that "well in excess of 80 percent" of viewers in the western half of the country "want to see the Olympics when they're available to see the Olympics. They don't want to see the key events of the day happening at 4 or 5 o'clock their time. They want to get home and watch them, and that's why there's a delay on the West Coast."

And, according to Ebersol, in every Olympics since 1992 the ratings have been higher on the western half of the country than in the eastern half.

"They love sports so much, and they know when they want to watch it," he said. "And that's in prime time."


E-mail: [email protected]