Sure, NBC streams every second of Olympic action, providing an all-you-can-eat buffet of sports you rarely sample outside the Games.
But what if you, understandably, don’t know where to start?
First, don’t feel stupid. Traditionally, TV broadcasters led you through the maze of Summer Olympic action. Ever since Roone Arledge invented the concepts of Olympic TV on ABC in the 1960s and it was refined over decades on NBC by the now-retired NBC impresario Dick Ebersol, the big idea was to slice and dice Olympic action to give viewers the choice cuts – and helpfully tell them what’s being served and why it’s special.
But now NBC offers everything online. Fortunately, it has also combined those two concepts – the endless helpings of digital action with the sort of chef’s recommendations you’re used to on TV – into something that’s incredibly handy: NBC’s live online Gold Zone.
Watch the Gold Zone LIVE each day at NBCOlympics.com/GoldZone
Gold Zone runs on the same premise as the NFL RedZone, which was developed after European soccer coverage began swinging viewers between various live game broadcasts. The point of that premise, brilliant in its simplicity: Hustle viewers between games in hopes of showing viewers the day’s best action – live.
But that concept couldn’t have found a better target that the Summer Olympics. Sure, with NBC streaming the world TV feed, which covers every second of competition, theoretically you could figure out how the handball tournament is going and set a reminder to tune in to a key matchup. Or, you could somehow calculate exactly when a decisive shot might come in shooting and you might get lucky.
But, seriously, if you could do that you might as well quit your job and finish off whatever credits you still need for your advanced degree in Olympic minutiae.
Or, you can check out Gold Zone on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app, where staffers facing a wall of screens in Stamford, CT, will do your homework for you. While NBC has 2,000-plus workers in its Olympic ground game in Brazil, it has 1,000-plus workers plugged in from its NBC Sports’ headquarters in Stamford – including its Gold Zone operation.
And that operation, says Gold Zone producer Paul Aspan, who normally produces news shows for CSN Chicago, is “a mix of storytelling and getting to a crucial part of an event. And it’s 1000% live. This is unlike anything I’ve produced, but in a good way.”
In what looks like a scaled-down version of a TV production truck, Gold Zone staffers monitor a wall of screens carrying Rio’s world TV feed. The point is to put the most decisive or just plain interesting live action online – sometimes squeezed into a split-screen and more often carried in a format that splits your screen into four boxes.
Commentary comes from the TV world feed’s English-language announcers, with Gold Zone graphics indicating which of the boxed sports is getting that audio.
Meaning, if you suddenly see action that seems momentous to you, you could switch to NBC’s stream of that single event and bask in it.
Or you can relax and let the producers of Gold Zone, being used for the first time at a Summer Olympics, take you on the guided tour. You’ll see crunch time at events and athletes on Olympic podiums getting their medals – and every playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. (Side benefit: Find out, finally, which national anthems you really can dance to. Remember though, if you end up sharing those opinions at a party, you’re starting a debate.)
For directors and producers puzzling over when to leave Olympic events and go to others, it’s comparable to the NFL RedZone – very subjective.
But when everything is live, everybody just has to go with the flow. Gold Zone host Tanith White, a 2006 Olympic silver medalist in ice dancing, pops up on-air from NBC’s Football Night in America studio, or in live voiceovers, to tell viewers what they’re about to see and why it’s noteworthy. Says Gold Zone researcher Marvin Pittman: “You can switch to trampoline and it’s visually stunning, but you wonder what’s happening.”
White can relate to casual viewers – “I should add up the sports I’d never seen” – but she’d done plenty of advanced research and has some great resources close by. With NBC’s small army in Stamford, including announcers calling various Olympic sports off the world TV feed, “we’re so tapped in.”
Which makes things much easier for viewers who want to sit back and let everything in the Games come to them.