When viewers turn on their TVs, smartphones, tablets and PCs later this week to watch the start of 2012 London Olympic Games coverage on NBC, very few outside the TV business will have heard of the division's top engineer, Dave Mazza.
Mazza has spearheaded building and maintenance of the technical infrastructure for NBC's Olympics coverage back to the 1996 Atlanta Games. But the impact of his work will be particularly visible this year, as NBC attempts to deliver a record 5,535 hours of coverage during the 17 days of the London Games-enough video to fill a 24-hour broadcast channel for 230 days.
What viewers will particularly notice "is the massive amount of live and VOD content" being delivered "to any platform" viewers choose, says Rick Cordella, senior VP and general manager of NBC Sports Digital at the NBC Sports Group. "Dave makes that possible. It's a huge project, and Dave does a tremendous job."
Like a number of the other senior executives involved in the Olympics this year, Mazza brings decades of live production experience to the task.
In junior high, he was involved in building the school's radio and TV station. In high school, Mazza interned at Penn State's WPSX-TV, where he began a life-long love of covering sports events by working on Penn State football games.
"When I was young I worked in theater and rock â€˜n' roll concerts, but I always kept gravitating back to TV and live sports," Mazza says. "It is a great marriage of excitement and the challenge of getting something technically complex to work."
At the age of 18, he moved into professional sports coverage when he answered a classified ad asking for "a good skier with an electronic background," recalls Mazza, who remains an avid skier.
That led to two years of work on professional skiing events around the world and a successful freelance career in live sports production. He worked on his first Olympics in 1984 for ABC and was the technical director for NBC's primetime Olympics coverage in 1988 and 1992. After joining NBC fulltime in 1994, he began playing his key role in every subsequent Games.
Much has changed since then. In Atlanta in 1996, NBC produced 171 hours for one broadcast channel; this year, the broadcast network will air a record 272.5 hours, up 50 from Beijing in 2008. And that represents only a small portion of the 2,035 hours of linear TV airing on NBCUniversal's channels and the 3,500-plus hours to be streamed over its digital platforms.
"I try not to think about those numbers, it gets a little scary," Mazza says with a laugh. He gives his highly experienced team much of the credit for the delivery of so much content.
Mazza and his team have deployed a number of innovative technologies to streamline their long-distance workflows, making it possible to handle so much content without blowing up their production budgets.
While Mazza stresses that they are cautious about deploying new technologies for such a high-profile event, the London Games will see a number of significant technical enhancements. These include virtual technologies to make it easier for viewers to understand and follow the action in various events, and the deployment of many more ultra-slow-motion cameras.
Some important things have remained constant over the years, however. Despite all the stress and pressure leading up to the Olympics, which often requires Mazza to be away from home for extended periods of time, he has always stayed close to his wife and kids, who have typically travelled with him while he was working abroad for the Games.
And as proud as Mazza is of the accolades the Games have brought him-he won 17 Emmys for his Olympics work between 1984 and 2010- he has also come to understand, on a personal level with his family, the way the Games foster the Olympic ideal of international understanding.
"I don't think that there has been a Summer Olympics since my kids have been alive that they didn't go to," he says. "And I'm very proud of the fact that they've been able to learn about other cultures and appreciate them."
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