2021 Olympics: NBC faces ‘hellish challenge’ to produce Tokyo Games after spectators are excluded from competitions


The lack of fans effectively makes this year’s Olympics a made-for-television event while also making it harder to do for television.

“It’s a hell of a challenge they face,” said Bob Costas, the legendary sports journalist who ran 11 Olympics before announcing his retirement in 2017.

Costas, who is now a CNN contributor, described the atmosphere and energy emitted by fans as a key part of the Olympics and suggested that the removal of events from just raw competitions would be reflected in the number of viewers.

“Now does that mean people won’t watch? Of course they will watch,” Costas said. “But will they look in the same sort of numbers as if it had the usual texture? Probably not.”

Costas said the absence of fans will make it more crucial that other sound elements come to the fore.

“It becomes all the more important to have people at the microphone,” he explained. “Having the coaches mic. Having a boom mic nearby. That’s really going to be a key. All that kind of peripheral stuff from competitors and support staff is going to become more important than ever.”

A spokesperson for NBC Sports said in a statement Thursday that the network was “disappointed that there were no spectators at the events.” But the spokesperson added that NBC “has long had plans to improve the viewing experience on our many platforms.”

“We have had a lot of experience with events without spectators throughout the pandemic,” the spokesperson said. “While unfortunate, this will not diminish the incredible stories and accomplishments of Team America’s athletes and around the world.”

NBC has previously announced plans to install cameras in the homes of athletes’ families.

Rob Hyland, the producer of NBC’s prime-time Olympic show, told a press conference in late June that for months his team had been working on a plan called “Friends and Family” to bring highlight the moments between athletes and their loved ones.

“We will feature those moments in every prime-time show and on every platform,” Hyland said at the time.

It’s unclear if NBC will try to incorporate artificial crowd noise into the games as well. An NBC spokesperson did not have details on the matter when he arrived Thursday.

But such artificial sounds from the audience were incorporated and became the norm during Major League Baseball and National Football League games during the height of the pandemic in the United States.

Amelia Schimmel, who was Oakland Athletics executive producer for stadium entertainment in 2020 and tasked with incorporating background noise into games, described crowd sounds as an integral part of the shows.

“You don’t realize when you watch at home how subliminal the sound of the crowd is,” she said, describing it as something you “really need” when you are streaming sports live without spectators in person.

Schimmel, however, suggested the team working on the Olympics had a much more difficult task ahead of them than the MLB teams faced. She explained that the MLB had two months to prepare to implement artificial crowd noises, which allowed them to test the sounds during practice games.

The Olympics team, less than three weeks before the games kick off, will not have such luxury if they decide to incorporate elements of man-made noise.

Costas also noted that with major American sports (such as football, baseball, and basketball) there is a “certain familiar vibe” that “a” seasoned audio producer can handle and come close to what it is. ‘is”.

“But is the sound on a diving site the same on a track and field? Is it the same in gymnastics as it is in swimming? The worst part is making it up,” said Costas. “Think how we wince at the laughs of old bad sitcoms. It’s a fine line to walk.”

Schimmel said that even with baseball, there were some unexpected things his team didn’t understand until they tried to implement sound during practice games.

“It’s a very unique and difficult set of circumstances,” said Costas. “People want to see the competition and feel the joy of it. But some of that atmosphere and texture of what makes the Olympics – well, any sporting event, but especially the Olympics – will be special. And it doesn’t. there is no way to BS the public. “


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