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For Olympics Reporters,It's All Fun and Games

With the Olympics and all its juicy subplots kicking off this week, lucky local TV reporters with boots on the ground in London are taking advantage of new strategies to hook viewers from the opening to closing ceremonies. And thanks to technological advancements such as live backpack units and the prevalence of social media, the TV spectacle of the 2012 Games will no doubt be memorable.

That the events will air live is key as well. “In years past, you worried about protecting the results so people could watch it [delayed] in prime,” says Patti Dennis, KUSA Denver VP of news. “In today’s digital media world, that’s absolutely impossible.”

Indeed, after Beijing in 2008, local broadcasters appreciate that London is just five hours ahead of the Eastern U.S. Several are making the most of the immediacy by deploying live backpack units, such as lightweight TVU packs, that will enable them to go live from most anywhere. Along with 25 staffers, the NBC owned stations sent three live-stream backpacks to London.

Newsgatherers love the mobility. “We can go beyond the typical locations,” says David Hunt, executive producer at Gannett’s KUSA. “We really will be live all over London.”

Most every reporter will be responsible for keeping his or her social media followers and friends up to date on all things rings. The newer platforms offer a level of detail and interactivity that the broadcasts may not. “It helps people get a sense of the magic of the Olympics,” says Rob Mennie, vice president and senior news executive at Gannett Broadcasting, which sent 18 staffers across the pond. “It’s the flavor, the camaraderie, the culture.”

Robert Kovacik, KNBC Los Angeles anchor-reporter, says knowing that a large number of viewers also have a smartphone or tablet on while watching the events motivates him to keep his social media channels lively. “It’s really the first time where we know people are watching the Olympics on more than one screen,” he says. “It really lets them feel like they’re here.”

Station groups are coming up with novel ways to report on the Olympics. Hearst Television, which has nine people in London, contributing to live daily reports for 27 stations, has the blog Live Wire. Brian Bracco, Hearst TV vice president of news, calls the site “an ongoing, living, breathing element.” Hearst also conscripted Hilary Phelps, sister of the famous medal-gobbling swimmer, to report from London.

Several station execs say advertiser interest in the Games has exceeded expectations. Some chalk it up to those who lament missing out on Beijing, or the Olympics representing that rarest of big-tent TV events. “As time goes on, advertisers really focus on the big-reach vehicles,” says Ray Heacox, president and general manager of KINGKONG Seattle. “[Advertising] has really blown by what we expected.”

The Games also represent a chance to turn Olympics viewers into regular viewers. KUSA has signature investigative stories slated for its late newscasts running post-Games. KING will talk up fall syndication debutante Katie. Hearst TV has a new graphics package for its stations. “It gives the NBC stations a chance to get a lot of eyeballs,” says Bracco, “and show them what we can do.”

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