12 to Watch: Dick Ebersol
With 3,600 hours of programming slated for the 2008 Summer Olympics, Dick Ebersol has finally relinquished control of the Games.
“When you were watching the Olympics as recently as 12 years ago, you were watching Dick’s version of the Olympics. Every minute of that was done by me, redone by me and approved by me,” said Mr. Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics. “Now we are at a time when the average American can program their own Olympics. Whether it’s our prime-time coverage of the Games, or deciding what to watch through digital platforms, audiences now have the control to enjoy and watch the Olympics, which are in the hands of the consumer for the first time.”
The sheer volume of coverage offered by NBC Universal for 2008 is more than the combined coverage of all the previous Summer Olympics telecasts combined since 1960.
The Games, which will be held in Beijing in August, continue the studio’s evolution of the Olympics telecast that began with the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.
NBC Sports held on to its Olympic franchise by winning a three-way auction for the United States media rights to the 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games with a record $2 billion bid.
NBC began formulating the idea for record-breaking coverage following the merger of NBC and Universal in 2003, which brought outlets such as the USA Network into the fold. In 2004 in Athens, the studio was able to expand its Olympics coverage from 400 hours to 1,200.
“It became apparent a little more than a year ago that we would be looking at at least 2,000 hours of programming due to live streaming, and ended up locking in 3,600, which has a nice ring to it,” Mr. Ebersol said. “That’s three times what we did for Athens. What we’ve learned is that by expanding our coverage, it actually enhances the audience experience.”
He noted the volume of crew needed to produce that much content was helped by the Chinese government, which was “wildly receptive” to helping cover the event, especially after spending $40 billion to prepare for the Olympics.
However, Mr. Ebersol’s involvement with the Games didn’t begin with Atlanta. Rather, it began when, as a student at Yale, he was offered a job as a researcher at ABC Sports for the 1968 Grenoble Winter Olympics.
In 1989, Mr. Ebersol was charged with rebuilding the NBC Sports division, leading to the historic 1995-96 sports season where the outlet became the only network in history to broadcast the World Series, the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and the Summer Olympics within a year.
In December 2003, Mr. Ebersol agreed to a nine-year contract to continue running NBC Universal’s Sports & Olympics division through 2012.
He has played a prominent role in the wide-ranging fields of sports, entertainment and news for NBC, ranging from “Saturday Night Live” to “NBC’s Sunday Night NFL Football.” Mr. Ebersol negotiated the unprecedented six-year NFL deal, including innovative flexible scheduling, that continues through the 2011 season with Super Bowls in 2009 and 2012.
“When I took the job back, I rediscovered my first love, and I’m lucky enough to have worked here now in those 18 years in a situation that allowed the same kind of freedom as if I was still running my own company,” said Mr. Ebersol. “GE was a major force in coming up with enormous sums of money to allow us to be successful. If a company doesn’t back you with billions of dollars, you can’t be in the sports business.
“In the world that we live in today, when you have a sports cable behemoth like ESPN, you have to pick your shots well,” he said. “We made a decision to go with major brands, such as the Olympics, the NFL, Wimbledon, as well as the [Kentucky] Derby and the Preakness, and that’s worked out for us.
“Now we are in a position where we will have the biggest sporting event in the world in the Summer Olympics and, five months later, feature the biggest sporting event in the U.S. in the Super Bowl. That’s great for NBC.”
AT A GLANCE
Name: Dick Ebersol
Title: Chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics
How long in current position: 3 years
Place of birth: Connecticut
What to watch for: Record-breaking coverage of the Beijing Summer Olympics
Who knew: Once worked the night shift at a brass mill