NBC Confident With Sochi Security

NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel said Thursday he was confident with the amount and type of security in Sochi, where terrorists have threatened to disrupt the Olympic games. That security will include background checks for everyone attending the games.

NBC will have some 2,300 people at the games—there are already 900 on site—and Zenkel told reporters in a conference call that they, too, were "overwhelemd and comfortable" with the level of security measures they were subject to and that their morale was "as high as a kite." Zenkel praised Russian's "fantastic cooperation" over the past few years as the games came together. Zenkel said he hoped to get Russian President Vladimir Putin to sit down and talk about that "incredible journey."

Zenkel said that in his 10 Olympic games he had never seen the credentialing, surveillance, and resources for the current games, including at summer games that are about three times as large.

He said security is always at the top of the mind at an Olympics, pointing to the fact that the Salt Lake games came only six months after 9/11 and security then was "significant."

On the issue of credentialing, he said that, unlike any previous Olympics, spectators are being credentialed. Nobody will be allowed into the park or any of the venues without a spectator pass, which is the equivalent of a credential with background check.

Zenkel also pointed to the perimeter the Russians had established—the so-called 'ring of steel'—and said that the fact that the two venues, coastal for indoor sports, mountain for outdoor, are "compact" helps in terms of securing them. "There really is a perimeter where Russian has overlaid a tremendous security force."

NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell said he would have to wait and see what impact all that security would have on the American  public's viewing experience. "There has to be, we hope, that balance between the security which everyone expects and wants to be very rigorous, but not to the degree that it stifles people's enjoyment of the games. We think the plan in place is good, but we'll have to see when we get there. Zenkel said he did not think it would adversely affect viewership and said Russian authorities said they would try not to be terribly conspicuous. He did not predict what the ratings for the games would be.

Asked about NBC's decision to put all the ice skating on NBC Sports Network, Bell said that part of his charge is to take chances, calling it a unique opportunity to build NBCSN's audience via that marquee sport, and one that is weather-proof.

Asked about a story that NBC had a hand in getting Lolo Jones on the bobsled team because her high Q scores could help with viewership, Zenkel said the suggestion was "preposterous." Bell added "ridiculous."

Mary Carillo, who has been producing some feature stories for the Olympics by traveling around Russia, said she did not do one on the issue of treatment of gays, but did do ones on vodka, seals, billionaires, and the St. Petersburg Egg museum, as well as the fact that the stones used in Olympic curling all come from the same "volcanic plug" in Scotland.

Bell said that in terms of the live streams of events NBC will be airing on a delayed basis on TV in prime time, it will not restrict access to replays of those streams before the prime time airings.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.