Tuesday, November 19, 2019
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for joining us today. We have some great news to announce from the NBC Sports Group, as you all know. We’re joined by NBC Sports Group president, Pete Bevacqua; our NBC Olympics president, Gary Zenkel; and our newly-named executive producer and president of NBC Olympics Production and executive producer of Golf Channel, Molly Solomon.
PETE BEVACQUA: Thanks, everybody, for joining us. We are certainly thrilled today with Molly Solomon’s announcement, as Greg mentioned, as executive producer and president of our NBC Olympics production and also retaining her very important role as executive producer of the Golf Channel, and I think when you think about Molly, for those who know her or will certainly get to know her, when you combine her passion and energy with the deep history she has at NBC Sports and the Olympics, I have to say that this was a very easy and obvious decision.
I think it’s really a great day for NBC, for NBC Sports and the Olympics, and I know I’m really looking forward to Molly moving into this role immediately. Kind of chapter one will be as she and Gary and the team heads into Tokyo and then as we turn the corner and head into the future. Really very excited and enthusiastic about the impact Molly will have on the Olympics and the future of the Olympic Games.
Couldn’t be more excited for Molly, for the entire Olympic team, and certainly for all of NBC, and with that, I would like to turn it over to Molly for a few comments because I know this is a great day for her.
MOLLY SOLOMON: Thank you, Pete. As many of you know, and Pete and Gary know, I have three loves in my professional life; it’s sports television, the Olympics and golf, so I feel really very fortunate to be able to combine them. So thank you to Pete and Mark (Lazarus) for trusting me with this expanded role to continue in golf while also adding the Olympics.
I look forward to joining my old partner Gary Zenkel working on the Olympics and with the very talented Olympic unit. I really feel like I’m returning to my roots at NBC Olympics. My first job out of college nearly 30 years ago was as an Olympic researcher. So over the next 22 years I really climbed the production ladder at NBC Sports doing every job along the way. That culminated in London, and I really thought that was the apex and went on to some other challenges within the company.
I know the requirements of this role. It’s very familiar. But now I look forward to being reunited with the talented team of the Olympic unit: Peter Diamond, Joe Gesue, Becky Chatman, and of course Sam Flood, who leads NBC Sports production.
GARY ZENKEL: Only to say very quickly, it is exciting for the team. It’s personally exciting for me to reunite with Molly. I joined around the same time just before the Barcelona Olympics, which was Molly’s first, as well as mine. We’ve assembled a great team over these years, and we are thrilled that she will be rejoining us after a short absence down at the Golf Channel.
She brings an amazing amount of energy, a great deal of creativity, and we have this incredibly ambitious plan leading into what should be one of the great Olympics of our career, and to have Molly plug in and apply not just her energy but some of her incredible creativity to how we present the Olympics is really a privilege for us, and it’s really exciting for the team.
MODERATOR: Molly was also in charge of the golf production at the Rio Olympics for 2016, so she hasn’t been away from it completely since she was coordinating producer on London’s primetime show and opening ceremony. Let’s open it up for questions from the media.
Q. I just wanted to ask how far along you are into production plans and if Molly’s arrival would change anything that’s already kind of been set?
PETE BEVACQUA: Sure, I can tell you, if you can imagine with the Olympics coming upon us here in the summer, we obviously are well down the road with our plans and our insight. But the good news is we are still roughly nine months away, and there will be plenty of time for Molly to be brought up to speed and to put her fingerprints on what the Olympics will look like in Tokyo. Certainly would love to hear Gary and Molly’s thoughts on that, as well.
GARY ZENKEL: As Molly knows, because she’s been involved in 10 of these, we begin planning years out, and so the plan is ambitious. We’re many networks, but as Pete said, and I echo the same thought, there is certainly an opportunity as we hone our specific production plans for Molly to infuse her own take on production plans, on programming plans, and I think the team — I know the team is very excited to have her join the discussion and help us potentially lead us to places we haven’t yet thought about.
MOLLY SOLOMON: There’s 248 days until the Tokyo Olympics, or 35 weeks. Whichever sounds longer, I’m going to latch on to that time period.
But I won’t underestimate what we’ve got ahead of us in terms of getting ready, but I also know as Gary mentioned, these plans take place, and I know from 22 years of working on the Olympics, it takes two and a half years just to get the foundation built, and I know the framework is going up. So I really look forward to digging in, but I think we also have a chance — we’ve got an advantageous time zone in Tokyo, so I can’t wait to look at the current plans and see what else we can do to really exploit that.
Q. Molly, I just looked back at a story that I wrote the first time we met back in 2000 when you were first taking over the cable job. One quote that I think you had think was that cable was where people would tune in to watch a game, when the Olympics Games came around, as opposed to what NBC was doing in primetime at that time. Does everybody want to watch a game now? Has the philosophy of viewers changed to a certain degree over that long period of time, and how do you adjust your philosophy to what viewers apparently want at this point in time?
MOLLY SOLOMON: What I think is so amazing about NBC’s Olympic platforms, because I believe we’re doing more than 7,000 hours on multi platforms for Tokyo, is that you’ve got options for every viewer. You’ve got everything streaming, you’ve got the primetime show that is showing you what’s most popular, what’s live. There’s all of these options for the viewer and the consumer.
It’s like going to a store and being able to get whatever you want. Or maybe it’s like ordering from Amazon.
But what I’ve been doing of late is I have three teens at home, and I use my family as a focus group, and I love to watch the way my kids consume media. I kind of study it. They don’t know if, they just think I’m nagging them and trying to see what they’re looking at, but it really helps me think, reflect and constantly evolve. How are we going to tell the stories of Tokyo? So, I’m going to try to apply that. But what I think is great is that we give the viewer and the consumer so many different options, and so what started in 2000 as offering long-form games to the viewer, you can still get that, but we’re going to give you a whole lot more options on how you consume the Olympics.
Q. How does someone in the executive producer position specifically, as your colleagues just said, put their fingerprints or take on the Olympics?
MOLLY SOLOMON: I know, and there’s 248 days. I think we’re fortunate that the Olympics, it’s not a property that’s broken or needs to be fixed, right. All the pieces are in place for NBC to present one of the most consumed summer games in history.
But I think I can bring a uniqueness to the job. My mantra as a producer is let’s innovate and search for fresh ways to tell the athlete stories. So whenever I go into a new project, a new show, I always ask the question to my team, how do we enrich the experience for the viewer? As I mentioned, the time zone is advantageous for us, so how can we enliven what we’re doing, particularly in primetime, which is still the anchor of our coverage.
Q. One of the things we’ve seen with NBC Sports’ coverage over the last couple Olympic cycles are the inclusion of what I would sort of accurately describe as broadcasters without necessarily sports broadcasting backgrounds in the roles of hosts or elsewhere on the coverage. There’s obviously a synergy at play there with NBC Entertainment. Do you share that programming thesis as your predecessors did in this position?
MOLLY SOLOMON: I think I do have to take the time to — I haven’t even seen the lineup yet, so you’ve got to give me some time, but I think great communicators that can really develop a relationship with the audience, those are the kind of people we want on our coverage, who can give you insight into the athletes and the stories. It doesn’t matter that they necessarily won a gold medal in rowing, but if we’re talking about Tokyo and this cosmopolitan city and finding a way to bring that to life and communicate that to the viewers, I’m going to look at the best possible person for that, so perhaps it’s a former Olympian, perhaps it’s an author, perhaps it’s a celebrity of some sort. But I’ve got to make sure that they can really communicate what’s special about the Olympics and special about the Olympic city that we’re in.
Q. You’ve worked over the years in the Olympics which have these huge vast audiences and you’ve worked with the Golf Channel, which at times has a very niche and devoted and very into that sport audience, and there’s been times when golf at majors comes to the wider audience and you have to speak to both. How do you balance the widespread audience that watches the Olympics which as some of your predecessors have said before are not all necessarily die-hard sports fans? How do you balance it?
MOLLY SOLOMON: What I love about the opportunities I’ve been afforded is that I worked on for many, many years the broadest possible platform in the Olympic Games, and then I went and worked in cable sports television for Golf Channel, and you had really smart fans, and I realized very quickly on that our job was to really superserve the golf fan. And what was equally challenging is your viewers, your consumers, they knew so much about the game that we had to pick the right people.
But in the end, you’re always picking people that communicate well, that can entertain, that can make you smarter. So I think in that way, it’s not that hard to find the right people, but again, I mentioned that we have so many different platforms where we’re going to be putting the Olympics, so different people work on different platforms. But we’re here most of all to provide coverage of the sports and the most amazing athletes, so we’re going to find the best communicators to do that.
Q. If you don’t mind me following up real quick, what do you think of the demographics of the Olympics fan and whether they are sports fans or not?
MOLLY SOLOMON: Well, it’s very interesting. More women watch the Olympics than men. It’s a very fascinating demographic. I don’t think you appeal to women per say, you talk about the Games and tell the stories in a very authentic way, and I think you bring them in. So I don’t worry that much about gender.
Q. Molly, a question regarding a bit of the production and the operations side of things. What are the biggest story lines behind the scenes over the last decade or so at the Olympics for you guys at NBC, as kind of that changing face of the IBC and certainly using the facility at Stamford more? How do you view facing that challenge of wanting to tell all the stories that you want to tell when more and more of your talent is in Stamford as opposed to Tokyo? How do you strike that balance to get the most out of your talent and resources in that setting?
MOLLY SOLOMON: Okay, you’ve got to give me a couple days to get up to speed, so I think I can answer that in a couple more months more fully, but what I do know, having grown up with the structure, and what you hear and see on the air is the Olympic research operation, which travels around the world for four years to find out about these athletes, is integral to however we are producing the Olympics, so I think the information, the resources are there, but equally so I think we can do a terrific job no matter where we’re based. But again, you’ve got to give me — this is day one, so you’ve got to give me at least two months to get up to speed.
Q. You’re coming in at a time where we’re seeing more and more people watch television with smart TVs and also interactive TV and you’ve got Peacock coming up in April a couple months before the Olympics. What role do you see Peacock and interactive television playing in these next Olympics?
GARY ZENKEL: As you’ve probably read, there are plans, but the plans are still in the works to bring some content from the Olympics to Peacock in the wake of this launch in April. But you’ll hear about that over time.
I will say in the case of smart TVs or what we call connected TVs, we have seen almost an explosion of viewing, digital viewing on these devices, and though the penetration of them in the last two Olympics hasn’t been that significant, it has been — the footprint has been growing, and with it comes a tremendous amount of volume in terms of digital video viewing.
We sometimes talk about total consumption of the Olympics when we do put together linear and digital viewing, and we’ve seen as smart connected TVs become the appliance or the viewing device of voice in the home, that you see even more consumption.
So we love the evolution, and we’ll see where it takes us in Tokyo.
Q. I understand that you’re also going to be having oversight for the Olympic Channel, the Team USA network that was started several years ago with NBC. What role do you see that playing, not just in Tokyo, but also going forward with the Olympics?
MOLLY SOLOMON: To me as an Olympic fan, it’s been a great haven, a place I go. It’s a lot like Golf Channel where I work, which superserves the niche sports fan, so you get to go find what you want. They’ve also done amazing social media and documentaries. It really is a companion to what we do every two years, but it also keeps telling these stories in between Olympics, which I think is vital to keep these story lines alive, to show these world championships. So to me, it’s a great companion to everything we’re doing.
Q. Who did you receive the call from when you landed the job, and I’m guessing that there was no interview process, that somebody just called and asked if you’d be interested and you were like, this is the job for me?
MOLLY SOLOMON: This is, as we say in TV speak, a quick turnaround. To be honest, I received a phone call from Pete Bevacqua. I was on the 16th tee playing golf with Brandel Chamblee, our outstanding commentator at Golf Channel, and I did not take the phone call. As Pete would want me to do, I finished the round, got in my car and called him back, and sometimes you get a phone call that changes the direction of your professional life, and that was the phone call. I’m thankful I did. I probably should have taken the phone call, but you know, it’s not great golf etiquette to answer the phone on the golf course, and I can’t wait to tell Brandel about it when I get off this call.
Q. Gary, I wanted to get you to clarify something you said a minute ago, and I know you mentioned to, I think it was The Hollywood Reporter in September, that there would be Olympics content on Peacock, and you had said to me and a few other folks in July that all the live stuff would stay, as you put it, within the cable ecosystem and the authenticated streaming. Was that a change or was I misinterpreting what you said?
GARY ZENKEL: There is no change. What I said is there will be content. The form of that content will be disclosed in due course. But no, of course we will not change the dynamic of the Olympics relationship with the cable ecosystem.
Q. Molly, just a quick detail there. What course were you playing when you got the phone call?
MOLLY SOLOMON: My home course of the Country Club of Orlando.
Q. And a question for you as well as Pete Bevacqua. How do you think this will impact your TV negotiations with the PGA TOUR?
PETE BEVACQUA: I would tell you, I don’t think it has any impact at all. I think the great news for the larger golf community, the PGA TOUR included, is that Molly is retaining her responsibilities in golf, and obviously a very busy person just got busier. But as I said to some of the golf leaders that I spoke to, and that Mike McCarley, our president of the Golf Channel spoke to today, to know that someone like Molly now is in an elevated role with not just golf but also the Olympics and the abilities she will have to really tap in to the power of NBCUniversal, I think that’s great news for all of our partners in the golf space. So I view this as a great day not just for Molly and our Olympic team, but also for The Golf Channel and all of our golf content. I think it makes a strong team even stronger.
Q. Molly, now that you are calling the shots, anything you think you’ll do differently with promotion of Olympic golf, especially if Tiger is involved?
MOLLY SOLOMON: Well, if Tiger makes it, it’s a great day. But I think what it showed you in 2016 is that it was a huge success, and a lot of high-profile players skipped the Olympics. In retrospect they were sorry they did, but we’re going to have an amazing field this time. No problems with the golf course being finished or anything like that, and you’ll get to watch Olympic golf in primetime because of the Tokyo time difference. So we’re really, really excited about it, and you may see the end of the gold medal matches in late night. You never know. I do have a soft spot for golf.
MODERATOR: Thank you all for joining us.