NBC's Bell: 'Big Air' Could Be Big Draw for Winter Olympics

NBC Olympics President, Production and Programming Jim Bell said that of the four new winter sports making their debut at the Olympics in South Korea this week, the new snowboarding big air competition is his pick as the one whose coverage is mostly likely to draw a crowd. Snowboarding, he said, is already an important part of the coverage equation.

Big air has snowboarders taking off from a ramp and executing tricks in the air (the higher they go the "bigger" their air).

The new sports in addition to big air are a sort of free-for-all start for freestyle skiing and speed skating, and mixed doubles in curling.

Bell’s prediction came in a conference call with reporters as coverage begins Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 7 (that mixed doubles curling) and Thursday in primetime (ice skating and skiing), even before the opening ceremonies Friday (Feb. 9).

Bell said he thought that the intersection of sports and the geopolitical issues around the venue represented an astonishing moment, which he likened to the Berlin games of 1936, held against the backdrop of the rise of Nazi Germany and its assertions of racial superiority.

Bell said NBC's coverage, across multiple platforms, will continue to focus on the athletes and their stories, but that given that "moment," there was an added layer of curiosity that NBC had a responsibility to address by providing context.

Asked whether the Olympic judges score points according to personal preference or a skaters' reputation, rather than more objective criteria--a question prompted by the  Tonya Harding biopic, I Tonya--gold medal winner and commentator Tara Lipinski said skating, by nature, was a subjective sport with no clock or finish line. She said artistry score can still be a case of personal preference or politics, but that there has been a marked improvement in the sport's judging framework--since the days of getting a 5.9 or 6-- given changes in the scoring system for a program's elements. It is more complicated to follow, she agreed (the coverage includes a running on-screen tally that can be a tad distracting), but also means every point is counted.

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.