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Olympics Viewing Guide - Broadcasting & Cable

Olympics Viewing Guide

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With all due respect to NBC and the 17,000 places they are letting us watch the Olympics, my interest in the Games has really waned in recent years. But I have to admit, this one has my eye. And it is that exact sentiment that has me thinking NBC's billion-dollar bet on Beijing may pay off starting this Friday.

The Olympics used to have a certain mystery. Growing up in Minnesota, it used to be my one time to see those evil Russian hockey players taking on our young freedom fighters. Nowadays, all the Russians are playing on an NHL team in Nashville or Dallas or some other storied hockey hotbed, so that shroud of mystery is gone. The world got smaller, and the Olympics were no longer as big a deal.

But the mystique is kind of back with China opening its doors—at least a crack—to the world and the world's media. So there are plenty of things I will be checking out this time around.

Opening ceremonies: I've never been a fan of the opening ceremonies, sorry to say. Too much pageantry. Too much marching. Too much Bob Costas. Costas doing the opening ceremonies would make a fine drinking game. Take a shot every time he fires out a hyperbole and then try walking a straight line. Now there's an Olympic event for you. Add to that all the costumes, smoke and odd characters, and the opening ceremonies are basically a Grateful Dead concert with worse music.

This year, however, there is a legitimate hook, and that's the possibility—make that probability—of some protests in the crowd. And if it happens, it'll be very interesting to see if, and how, NBC chooses to cover it.

NBCOlympics.com: Speaking of incarceration, for one entire week of the Games, I will be on vacation with the wife, the kids and the in-laws. Talk about using the term “vacation” loosely. And the place we're staying has no television. So I actually may be more invested in NBC's huge online investment working more flawlessly than GE.

It is up to NBC to bail me out with this whole fancy operation letting me watch sports all day and night. Please.

Trendy Sports: Every Olympics, it seems one random or new sport gets hot and worth checking out. You remember curling?

But while new sports do show up, the Olympics will never have the most outlandish one. That honor was retired after the 1986 Goodwill Games introduced motoball, which was soccer on motorcycles. Seriously. Motoball.

Although if Chris Albrecht over at IMG gets his way, one day there will be something called Slam Ball. Not making that one up, either. It's basketball with trampolines in the floor. Suddenly curling looks like a sport.

The Bandwagon: Every Olympics has its national sweetheart team or athlete, the one NBC puts on a pedestal and the entire country follows. Swimmer Michael Phelps is an early favorite, barring a Sports Illustrated-like B&C jinx since we put him on the cover this week.

But there is one quiet bandwagon I am firmly on: the one that watches the USA basketball team and cheers against them. Anyone who hates the New York Yankees understands.

The News Divisions: All the intrigue is hardly restricted to the sporting fields. Unless they all need to pull out of Beijing because Barack Obama sneezes or something, the news division coverage of the Olympics and any surrounding events should be captivating. Maybe that's an unfortunate choice of words. Let's say it gives new meaning to the phrase “demonstration sport.”

Post-Olympics: Remember: When the Olympics are over, the NBC-induced fun may continue.

Everyone at GE and everyone at NBC and basically everyone who has ever bought a GE appliance says that NBCU isn't on the block. But there have been enough whispers that GE will spin off or sell the entertainment unit after reaping the business-related riches of the Beijing Olympics that I'd bet the rumors start ringing again before long.

E-mail comments to ben.grossman@reedbusiness.com

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