Air Check by Diana Marszalek

Stations Psyched To Be On-Site In Sochi

About 75 local broadcasters representing mostly NBC affiliates around the country are geared up to go to the Winter Olympics in Russia. The NBC Owned Television Stations are sending 25 anchors, reporters and producers. Gannett Broadcasting will have 20 in Sochi, including several from newly acquired Belo stations. And Hearst is sending nine. In each case, the contingents are larger than ever before.

Despite terrorist threats putting Olympics-goers on edge, TV station groups say they are sticking to plans to send some of their biggest contingents ever to the winter games in Sochi, Russia.

About 75 local broadcasters representing mostly NBC affiliates around the country are geared up to go to the games, which will air on NBC Feb. 7-23, says Bob Horner, president of NBC News Channel, which is coordinating the activity.

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Large broadcast groups with histories covering Olympics make up the bulk of the local TV delegation. The NBC Owned Television Stations are sending 25 anchors, reporters and producers. Gannett Broadcasting will have 20 in Sochi, including several from newly acquired Belo stations. And Hearst is sending nine. In each case, the contingents are larger than ever before.

Others include Nexstar, which will be going to the Olympics for the first time. The group will be sending two anchors — one from WBRE in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., the other from KNWA in Fayetteville, Ark. Schurz’s NBC affiliate KTUU in Anchorage, Alaska is sending someone. So are two Cordillera Communications-owned stations, KOAA Colorado Springs and KVOA Tucson, Ariz., Horner says.

Another 25 or so NBC News Channel staffers — whose duties include producing stories for affiliates — are also scheduled to make the trip.

Broadcast executives say they are continuing to focus on executing their plans, which have been in the works for months, even as safety concerns are prompting others, including some athletes’ families, to stay home.

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“Our newsrooms have a commitment to bring that story home,” says Susan Tully, VP of news at NBC-owned KXAS Dallas-Fort Worth, who is coordinating coverage for all 10 of the O&Os. “We just know the value of local content from the games.”

Horner says ensuring the safety of broadcasters has been a primary component of NBC’s larger plans from the get-go and the recent threats do not necessarily come as a surprise.

“I would just say that I don’t believe that any of these concerns are new. It’s a complicated part of the world and a complicated part of Russia,” Horner says. “We have been planning for a long time.”

Nexstar's Jerry Walsh, who is overseeing the group's Olympics coverage, has a similar take. "You are always going to plan for every possible issue that you are going to run into over there,” he says. “We feel confident that the organizers have a good plan in place, NBC has a plan in place and our team feels confident."

The local broadcasters, many of which have been building up to the games with special locally produced Olympics content, say their heightened investment in covering Sochi stems from technology that lets broadcasters produce stories more efficiently and send them home more quickly and, often, live.

"It's a lot easier than it used to be," says Jane Geelan, who is director of social media at KXAS and serves as the on-site Olympics coordinator for the group. "In the past we would send pallets and pallets and pallets. Now you go over with a laptop, a tripod, a camera and a light."

Bonded cellular technology will be a real game changer, as the portability and live capabilities of the equipment will allow broadcasters to report from all sorts of locations simply not possible in the past.

"It's very exciting that we're not locked down," says Rob Mennie, Gannett Broadcasting's VP-senior news executive. "We are doing a much larger combination of live technology that will allow us to do more live throughout the day from different parts of the Olympic region."

Gannett will use five TVU systems to supplement the satellite transmission services provided by NBC News Channel, which is creating newsroom workspace and a broadcast perch overlooking the Medals Plaza in the Olympics stadium for affiliates, Mennie says. Up to six Gannett stations will be able to broadcast live at the same time, he adds. Previously, it was just two.

The NBC Owned Stations will also get a boost from the new live capabilities, Tully says. Dejero is creating for the group a live drop spot in the mountains from which the group's team can broadcast, he says.

All Olympics content produced by the NBC Owned Stations will be done in HD, she says.

The big difference in time between the U.S. and Sochi has been a major factor in broadcasters plans, too. Sochi is nine hours ahead of New York.

The NBC Owned Stations, for example, will air live reports only during morning and latenight newscasts. That means reporters will start their days by appearing live on 11 p.m. newscasts. They will sign off after doing reports for the morning news.

Hearst will also air live Olympics reports every morning on its NBC affiliates, says VP of News Barbara Maushard.

Through all of it, though, local TV leaders say they are committed to making sure the news they send out from Sochi stays distinctly local, customizing it for individual markets as much as possible. Some of it will wind up in the The Olympic Zone, an NBC half-hour program that will air prior to its primetime coverage. The program is designed to allow affiliates to insert local stories.


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