Can’t get enough of watching Team USA athletes on and off the field of play? Have we got a network for you.
The Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA launches Saturday at 6 a.m. Eastern time with a special hosted by Mike Tirico, the new face of NBC Olympics in primetime.
Airing year-round, the channel will feature competition, original programming and archival footage. It will be available in more than 35 million homes – with additional providers expected to add millions of new homes in the future.
Athletes will also get a boost from the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA by staying in the public eye.
Shaun White, the two-time Olympic snowboarding gold medalist, said that after the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014 didn’t go the way he’d hoped, “everybody in the main mix of things thinks that I’ve retired.”
White added that the impression is “really bizarre to me. I won the last competition by 10 points. That’s the hurdle that I’m excited about that we can clear. When you see people compete at the Olympics, win or lose, then you get this lull and gap in time. You don’t know what your favorite athlete is trying to accomplish. Now all of a sudden you see them and you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, they didn’t retire.’"
The Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA is a partnership between the International Olympic Committee, the United States Olympic Committee and NBCUniversal, which has the rights to Olympic programming through 2032. All three entities will produce content.
Lisa Baird, chief marketing officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee, said the Olympic Channel will allow viewers to “see Team USA athletes do what they do best: Compete in thrilling competitions and inspire the next generation of athletes.”
She said the channel “exponentially increases the coverage and the ability to bring great content and storytelling immediately.”
The new network is closely aligned with the global Olympic Channel, the digital platform which launched at the close of the Olympic Games Rio 2016 and is available in 11 languages. However, as the first “localized” channel, the Home of Team USA will highlight American athletes and teams. Other country- or area-specific channels are planned in the future around the world.
“There’s no better starting point than the United States (for a localized network),” said Yiannis Exarchos, executive director of Olympic Channel Services and CEO of Olympic Broadcasting Services. “Here’s a Greek speaking. (We have) a relationship with a nation absolutely in love with sport, and absolutely in love with the Olympics, also a long-term partnership with NBC.
“I hope that we will stand up to the challenge, which is really to do justice through storytelling the amazing stories of thousands of athletes throughout the world and especially U.S. athletes.”
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Olympic Games Barcelona 1992, the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air eight consecutive nights of Dream Team games in their entirety starting Aug. 28. NBC showed only portions of some early games during its 1992 Olympics coverage.
NBC’s Dream Team documentary that originally aired during the Olympic Games London 2012 will be shown each night and includes interviews with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Charles Barkley.
Tirico said that basketball fans like his teenage son can finally see what the Dream Team was all about. The first group of U.S. professionals to play in the Olympic Games, the Dream Team won by an average of 44 points per game en route to the gold medal.
“It’s great to tell you the story,” Tirico said, “but when we can show it and share it the way that the Olympic Channel provides with context and perspective, and the terrific documentary that goes with it, we can see what made the team unique and a transcendent type of team.”
Plus, Tirico added, “Where else would you find the television space to do something like this?”
Gary Zenkel, president, NBC Olympics and Business, NBC Sports Group, said the Olympic Channel will complement the hundreds of hours of programming already on NBC and NBCSN.
“We call it a very robust distribution system,” he said. “The audience in the United States is going to have many opportunities to access this content.”
Zenkel said that during the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, the Olympic Channel will be in the mix and “complement through the course of the day the content distributed across the other NBC channels.”
The impact of the Olympic Channel will be clear in the upcoming weeks during the world championships in aquatics, which begin Friday in Budapest, and the world championships in track and field in London in August. More competition and championships content will be shown than in previous editions.
Jim Bell, President, NBC Olympics Production & Programming, said time constraints that prevent early heats from appearing on NBC aren’t a factor on the Olympic Channel, “thereby super-serving those super fans.”
While the USOC had been working on an Olympic channel in the past, the global Olympic Channel was a product of Agenda 2020, adopted by the IOC in December 2014.
Exarchos said it was born of “those Monday blues – the Monday after the end of every Olympic Games, where we all start missing incredibly this extraordinary atmosphere, the athletes of the world.”
He said the Olympic Channel fills in the gaps with storytelling of the journey to the Games. “In today’s world, you simply cannot wait for two or four years,” he said. “It needs to be part of our daily lives. We believe it’s not just about sport, it’s relevant to making our lives better.”
Original programming and footage from the extensive IOC and NBC archives supplement the action on the field.
Twenty-one different production companies have produced about 3,000 pieces of original content already for the global Olympic Channel, which is based in Madrid.
Mark Parkman, general manager of the global Olympic Channel, said a partnership with noted producer Frank Marshall called “Five Rings Films,” will produce five documentaries a year in the same vein as ESPN’s “30 for 30” series.
The first one focuses on Cuban boxing legends and success.
A documentary about rival U.S. synchronized swimming teams begins this week. “Synchro Sisters,” a four-episode docu-drama series premieres today on the Olympic Channel digital platform at OlympicChannel.com and on its mobile apps.
It follows the athletes and coaches of the Aquamaids of Santa Clara, California, and the Aquanuts of nearby Walnut Creek in the weeks prior to national team selection.
“We’re telling athlete stories, going behind the scenes, showing training routines and what it is they’re overcoming,” Parkman said.
And perhaps proving that they haven’t retired.