Mike Tirico, Katie Couric, Jim Bell, Gary Zenkel
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to our conference call today. As you may have seen earlier, we announced our Olympic Opening Ceremony hosts, Mike Tirico and Katie Couric, who join us on the call, along with our NBC Olympics Presidents Jim Bell and Gary Zenkel. Each will have a quick opening comment and then we’ll take your questions.
MIKE TIRICO: Good afternoon or morning, wherever you may be. This is a terrific day for all of us. You really get the sense of the Games getting closer now and we’re 22 days away from the Games, and then after our first night on the air, Thursday, February 8th, we’ll have the opening ceremony on February 9.
I was thrilled when Jim Bell reached out to me and said that Katie Couric could be the person co-hosting the opening ceremony with me. Everybody who has watched television over the last couple of decades knows that there is no one who brings more to a broadcast than Katie, and she has done this three times with the Opening Ceremony, which is a great comfort for me, this being my first Opening Ceremony. I did work the Closing Ceremony in Rio at the 2016 Games.
But this is one of those shows that is so unique in television. It’s a little bit of everything. It’s a little bit of sports and news and the geopolitical climate and fashion and culture and music and celebrating athletes’ great stories, and I can’t think of anyone better who has expertise in all of those areas than Katie to be with me there for the show. So I’m looking forward to it.
We had a great day together today with all of us and our entire Olympic team in New York, and February 8th, the start of the Games can’t get here soon enough, and February 9th with the Opening Ceremony is right there behind it on the calendar. Looking forward to an exciting time. So thank you for a couple of minutes.
KATIE COURIC: Hi, everyone. Well, I, too, am quite excited. When Jim reached out to me and asked if I might be interested/available to co-anchor the Opening Ceremony with Mike, I was thrilled. I’m in the throes of finishing up a six-hour documentary series for NatGeo, but I have a terrific team of people, and it’s shaping up the way I was hoping it would, so I’m able to take a brief respite, if you will, or sabbatical and head to South Korea to do this.
As Mike said, I’ve done this three times before, Sydney, Salt Lake City, and Athens, and it’s always a thrill to witness and to be at such an important worldwide kickoff to the Olympics, something that I’ve loved covering throughout the course of my career and of course during my time at NBC, and I’m just very, very excited about it.
As I said earlier, Mike has a big head start on me when it comes to preparation, so I’ll be cramming a lot in the upcoming weeks, but I think the Olympics is always full of great personal stories, and that’s what I’m going to be looking for, in addition to sort of the macrocosmic picture. I’m always sort of interested in the stories that show the heart and humanity of the Games, and I know that they have that. They have those stories and stage coming up in South Korea.
I’m really looking forward to working with Mike and Jim and the whole NBC Sports team.
JIM BELL: I’m especially thrilled to be back working with Katie again. My time with Mike has been fantastic, as well, as we’ve been ramping up for these Games, and I think the thing they share in common is a genuine passion for these Olympics in general and what they represent in the world, and particularly at this moment, it seems like a pretty good time to have an Olympic Games.
I think we’re all buoyed by the news this morning about North Korea and South Korea marching together to field a single team in women’s ice hockey. These are some welcome developments, I think, for everybody, and I think the whole team is just ready to get the heck over there and get this thing going already.
GARY ZENKEL: Happy to report PyeongChang is ready to host the Olympics. They have 12 venues that have been tested and ready. They have an athletes’ village that is open. The media village, which is co-located with the athletes’ village, has members of the NBC team living in it today.
NBC is ready. We are building out our technical space. Most of that is done. We’re building out our studios. Most of that is done. We have 400 people on the ground today, and that grows by the day. Jim and I and many others will join them early next week. This is quite refreshing after several Games where at this time the organizers were sprinting to the finish line.
We are incredibly excited to get over there, join our colleagues and get on with what could be one of the great Games we’ve worked on.
Q. For Jim and Gary, could you guys talk about what the tipping point was for starting to do the Games live this Olympics, how that will change the coverage?
JIM BELL: Well, I think there’s two pieces to that. The first is that contrary to popular belief, the 14-hour time difference works really great for live. People initially think, gosh, it’s all the way on the other side of the world, but the time difference is 14 hours, so that means at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, that’s 10:00 a.m. the next day in South Korea. That’s right when many of the marquee events, figure skating, alpine, snowboarding, are going to be taking place. I think the other piece is just the evolution of technology and wanting to feel like television was still going to be the place for the entire country to experience the Olympics live as much as possible. So for the first time ever at the Winter Games, we’re going to be live across the country.
So there’s the live piece, which was going to happen anyway, the most live coverage of any Winter Olympics ever, and then to be able to do the Winter Olympics live across the country for this communal experience and not feel like television was being usurped by social media or other things in other time zones, and I think it’s going to be a great way for us to — and for the viewers to experience these Games with all of this live.
Q. Question for Jim, and if everyone else wants to weigh in, feel free. How are you anticipating — it just seems like we’re a few weeks away from the start, and besides you guys are blessed to have the Super Bowl, which of course will be a great platform to promote the Games, but with all the political news and everything going on, are you finding it — do you think it’ll be more of a challenge this Olympics to get people to focus on this event and what’s happening there as there are so many other distractions in the media world? And also just if you had a comment on today’s news about North Korea and South Korea and kind of teaming up and whether that will also provide another element that will draw people into the Games.
JIM BELL: Well, I sure hope that will draw people into the Games, and for the right reasons. It feels like a very positive story, this deescalation of tension, this calming, lowering of the temperature over there. We think that’s one of the things out there, one of these stories that’s been out in the world happens to be one of the stories where the Olympics are taking place. So we think as the Games draw closer, that’s going to be a focus point and one of interest that should help drive people to be curious about seeing the North Koreans march in the opening ceremony and seeing the women’s hockey team competing together and just overall, hey, wait a minute, Winter Olympics in North Korea; why isn’t this in the Alps?
I think there’s a little bit of a curiosity factor that’s been enhanced by the news and hopefully something for people to feel good about right now in a world which I think represents a welcome departure from so many of the distractions that you were referring to, I think.
KATIE COURIC: I think that we’re not going to ignore things that are going on completely, but I do think that politics probably domestic politics in particular take a backseat when it comes to the Olympics. It is, as Jim mentioned, an incredibly unifying event where I think sort of ideology and political affiliation is just not front and center. It’s really about athletic excellence and determination and resilience and all these personal human stories that connect us in a way that I think is sorely needed right now.
I think there is obviously — I think you have to use news judgment every day in terms of what you’re covering, and Jim probably can speak about the bigger picture about the Games. But I think this is a wonderful opportunity to be apolitical in a time when that’s been very difficult to do.
MIKE TIRICO: I was just going to add that the conversation, the constant conversation about Korea and what’s going on on the Korean peninsula and how it impacts the U.S., I think that has raised awareness of all things Korea, and it certainly adds to that the Olympic Games as perhaps an unintended consequence of this increased conversation.
And I also think, too, we’re in a time when it doesn’t take long for things to go viral or doesn’t take long for things to become the event or the action of the moment, so while there may not be the ramp-up that you might have come used to in past Olympic Games, I think certainly around the Super Bowl and once we go those next three days before the Games start, you’ll be seeing and hearing plenty about the Olympics that are ahead.
Q. Jim, is it your intention to request an interview with Donald Trump at any time during the Olympic Games?
JIM BELL: We have, as we have in the past Olympics, asked for an interview with the President.
Q. Have you gotten a response on that yet?
JIM BELL: Yes, I did get a response, and it is being considered.
Q. What kind of access, if any, do you anticipate you will get to North Korean athletes or officials, and is that something you would be interested in if you could get that kind of access?
JIM BELL: It’s absolutely something we would be interested in. Your guess is as good as any about the likelihood of that happening.
Q. Jim and Gary, we’ve got three straight Olympics in Asia starting with this one. Was the decision to broadcast the opening ceremony live online a test run to see if it would be worth it to do on television going forward for Tokyo or maybe Beijing? And then for Katie and Mike, you talk about the human interest stories a lot, what you’re looking forward to with the opening ceremony. What happens if a U.S. athlete makes a political statement during the Opening Ceremony? Would you shy away from that?
JIM BELL: I’ll take the streaming of the Opening Ceremony. It just felt like it was sort of the last thing that wasn’t live. I suppose, like any other thing that we do that’s new at an Olympics, we’ll take it under consideration after we see how we felt like it was and what we could do to make it better for the viewer and the people who are watching at home. I think it’s a little early to tell about how that would impact Tokyo or Beijing, but at least as you point out, rightfully given the approximate time zones, it would likely be therefore a more apples-to-apples comparison. And I’ll let Mike and Katie handle the other question.
MIKE TIRICO: I’ve been handling it most of the football season. I think our responsibility as reporters, journalists, hosts is to document the event that’s happening in front of us, and if there is some sort of protest, I think it’s important to do that.
I think one of the things that was missed a bit with the NFL players that were kneeling, which I assume is the genesis of the question here and got a lot of coverage around the country, we need to know why, as well. It’s one thing to say somebody was kneeling, somebody was protesting. Sometimes we didn’t do as good a job as an entire group in the media identifying what that player was protesting. Certainly on the Olympic stage it would take on a different level of interest because you’re not representing the Seahawks or the Lions or the Jaguars; you’re representing the USA. And that’s why I think we might not see those same types of protests that we saw during the NFL season, but it’s possible. And to your direct question, if it happens, whether it’s during the Opening Ceremony or during a medal ceremony, I think it’s our responsibility to report it, show it, and then follow up on what the situation was.
As we go through the Olympics, I think we’ll have a better feel for how that might play out and how it’ll be shown on television.
KATIE COURIC: I think it’s sort of hard to predict in advance, too. I don’t think we’d ever shy away from something that’s newsworthy. I think that collectively in a news organization anywhere or covering a big important news event, you make a determination based on the event. And so I think it really is dependent on what that looks like, what it is, how organized it is, and a lot of other factors that go into editorial decisions that are made every day.