Days blend into night, and employees lose most sense of time; there are signs reminding everybody which day of the Olympics it is.
STAMFORD, Conn. — The Olympic Games may be taking place half a world away in South Korea, but the heart of NBC’s broadcast operation is a sleepy city 35 miles northeast of New York.
Near midnight here last Thursday night, instead of leaving work, employees were shuttling in from local hotels, and the control rooms, production booths and editing bays were filled with hundreds of employees.
Here in Stamford, teams are filling NBC Sports Network and the Olympic Channel with 24/7 coverage of the Pyeongchang Games, and televising curling and hockey on CNBC and USA Network. They are pushing out live streams of each sport — more than 1,800 hours overall — to laptops, phones and connected TVs, producing highlights and 4K video to feed to DirecTV and Dish customers.
The one thing not controlled from Stamford: the 176 hours of coverage on the main NBC network, which is produced out of its Manhattan headquarters in Rockefeller Center.
NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast, has paid $10 billion to broadcast the games through 2032, making the company by far the largest media player in the Olympics universe. The exclusive U.S. broadcast rights ensure that NBC’s channels dominate the ratings for a couple of weeks every two years and serve as a monthlong platform to promote other programming, though the network does not always reap a profit. NBC lost $223 million on the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
NBC’s prime-time ratings are down 16 percent from the Sochi Games four years ago, though that has been countered by NBCSN’s most-watched week ever. Here in Stamford, the hundreds of employees working on the Pyeongchang Games are too busy putting out most of NBCUniversal’s 2,400 hours of live coverage over 19 days to dwell on the ratings. NBC rented out 600 rooms at area hotels, so employees don’t have to return home at night.
“My shift right now is basically 3 in the afternoon to 9 in the morning,” said Dean Walker, a coordinating producer who normally works out of NBC’s facilities in Dry Creek, Colorado.
Days blend into night, and employees lose most sense of time; there are signs reminding everybody which day of the Olympics it is. Before the games, many shifted their sleeping schedules to match Pyeongchang — 14 hours ahead of the East Coast — and wake up around 5 p.m. here.
On an ordinary day, when the Olympics are not happening, about 750 people work out of the facility, a gleaming 300,000-square-foot structure that formerly was a Clairol factory. NBC Sports took it over in 2012. The facility was designed specifically to handle the load of an Olympics, and during the games the number of workers swells to about 1,300, in addition to the 2,000 NBC staff members in South Korea.
The Stamford crew passes the hours monitoring dozens of video and audio feeds that zip across the Pacific Ocean from South Korea on one of four fiber-optic lines before spider-webbing their way across the United States. The journey takes just milliseconds.
As it has for past Olympics, NBC is calling much of the action stateside in an effort to save money. This takes place in Studio 4, usually used for storage but now filled with eight portable black booths, each about the size of a small bedroom. On one side of each occupied booth are two producers; on the other are two announcers calling an event “live” while watching monitors.
From prime time to morning, NBCSN shows the Olympics live. During the day in the United States, and the Korean night, it shows replays or events that were not shown live. For one hour each night, the figure skating preview show “Olympic Ice” is directed from an auxiliary control room, so workers can clean the main control room, which is in use the 23 other hours of the day.
If the “Olympic Ice” set looks familiar, that’s because it is the one used for “Football Night in America,” with small modifications. There’s an extra desk, and the red and yellow lights of “Football Night in America” have become the cool blues and purples of the Pyeongchang Games.
There are also 20 or so operations staffers mostly monitoring digital streams. As more Americans move away from consuming sports on traditional televisions, the streaming operation has become vital.
Just seven days into the Pyeongchang Games, the number of streamed minutes was poised to double the 420 million from Sochi four years ago. NBC has since announced that Pyeongchang streaming has tripled the Sochi numbers. At the lowest point, usually 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. Eastern, the streaming levels are the same as NBC sees for a decent English Premier League soccer game, while at the end of the workday they match those for NFL “Sunday Night Football.”
“You just lose track of time because the audience is so high,” said Eric Black, the digital chief technology officer.