Olympic overlap: delayed on TV, live on Internet

Aug. 07, 2008, 9:27 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics will be quite a sight, a glorious, colorful event made for big-screen viewing Friday night.

And, just about the time the torch lights the giant flame, you can watch the first medal get decided - if you have a computer handy.

Huh?

Strange as it seems now, it'll make perfect sense in a few days. You'll probably like it, too. At least, NBC is betting billions on it.

Call it the Create-Your-Own Olympics: Watch what you want, when you want - as long as you have a cable or satellite hookup on your TV and a computer with an Internet connection, preferably a fast one.

Another must is grasping the time difference. The shortcut: Flip the a.m. and p.m. to go from Eastern time to Beijing time and remember that it's always ahead in China. Thus, 10 p.m. Friday in New York is 10 a.m. Saturday in Beijing.

Now we're back where we started, at the intersection of tape-delayed television and live competition.

The pageantry from the Bird's Nest stadium actually will unfold Friday morning in the U.S., but NBC will save it until prime time. By then, it will be Saturday morning in China and the games truly will have begun.

Seven medals will be decided Saturday - the first two likely to be settled while the ceremonies are on the air.

Those two events are the women's 10-meter air rifle and women's 48-kilogram weightlifting. Expect the first winner to be Chinese. Strictly by schedule, that should be shooting - but if her aim is off, and the lifter is doing well, don't be too surprised if things get switched.

Computer-savvy sports fans don't have to hedge their bets on which finishes first. Just go to NBCOlympics.com and open two windows, shooting in one, weightlifting in the other.

But, wait, that's not all.

Other live events cyber-competing for viewers during the opening ceremonies: women's basketball (Belarus vs. Australia, followed by Mali vs. New Zealand), women's team handball (France vs. Angola, then Hungary vs. Sweden), men's and women's badminton singles and women's individual saber fencing.

You don't even have to wait for the opening ceremonies to start watching online. The equestrian event known as "eventing" starts at 6:30 p.m. EDT, a full hour before Bob Costas and Matt Lauer welcome NBC viewers to Beijing.

For those who want more after Costas and Lauer wrap up, there will be plenty of choices - everything already mentioned, plus men's and women's judo starting just then.

Overwhelming, isn't it? Sort of like an endless all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. Come hungry because NBC will be pumping out 3,600 hours of Olympics coverage. That's 150 days' worth for a 16-day event.

A mind-boggling 2,200 hours will be Web only. The rest will be spread over your local peacock-channel affiliate; cable partners MSNBC, CNBC, USA, Oxygen and Telemundo; its high-definition channel, plus new high-def channels specifically for basketball and soccer. On Friday night, though, it's strictly the Internet and the flagship station.

"We're awed by the enormity of what's going to be done here," NBC boss Dick Ebersol said.

The opening ceremony should draw huge ratings, even if folks won't understand much of what they're seeing.

Bizarre dances, characters and costumes are a staple at these things. Expect more of the same from chief director Zhang Yimou, the Chinese filmmaker whose works include the Oscar-nominated movies "House of Flying Daggers" and "Raise the Red Lantern."

"The opening ceremony will mainly showcase China's long history, splendid civilization, achievements in economic reforms and scenes of modern Chinese society," said Zhang Heping, director of the opening closing ceremonies department. Zhang added the "artistic performance" will last an hour, split into sections on "magnificent civilization" and "glorious times."

Perhaps NBC will edit down the parade of nations, which will be longer than ever with a record 205 entries. (Programming note: Greece is first, China is last and the order in between will be in alphabetical order - according to the Chinese alphabet, that is. The United States will be the 140th.)

The stars and stripes will be carried by distance runner Lopez Lomong, the former Lost Boy of Sudan who became a U.S. citizen only 13 months ago. Look for (NB)A-list flag bearers such as China's Yao Ming, Germany's Dirk Nowitzki, Argentina's Manu Ginobili and Russia's Andrei Kirilenko.

"There will be a lot of tall people in the opening ceremony," Kirilenko said. "Yao will be the funniest because the other Chinese will look so small behind him."

The highlight of the show is igniting the flame. Who does it and how are supposed to be high drama, but the answers will come before lunch in the United States. NBC can keep video off the airwaves, but still photos and words will be everywhere.

The other big finish will be the fireworks. Oh, yes, lots and lots of fireworks.

"As we all know, China is the birthplace of fireworks," said Wang Ning, director of opening and closing ceremonies operation center. "Fireworks will continue throughout the opening ceremony and will match the performances."

NBC sure hopes so.

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