Bob Costas focuses on Olympic storytelling at Aspen Ideas Festival
The Aspen Times
Bob Costas believes in storytelling — always has and always will, even in the age of instant streaming and multiple broadcast channels.
Costas, the face of the NBC family of networks for the Olympic Games, will anchor the company’s multiplatform telecasts of the Rio Olympics starting Aug. 2.
“The essence of storytelling is still the same,” Costas told a packed house Monday at Paepcke Auditorium during a session of the Aspen Ideas Festival.
Even with 41 live streaming options and 11 live television channels during the Rio Games, Costas said NBC will remain focused on storytelling — the stories behind the athletes — for the evening prime-time broadcasts from Rio.
“None of this (live streaming coverage) will diminish our prime-time ratings,” Costas said, adding that digital social media is not strong in the storytelling department. It’s strong instead in instant results and instant information. “Putting ‘people’ into the Olympics is … even more important.”
He said the NBC family intends to use the other streaming outlets and live channels to drive viewers to the feature stories of the prime-time productions.
“It’s really a live Olympics,” said Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast Corp. “We will live stream every single event at Rio.”
Roberts’ Comcast Corp. owns NBC-Universal and owns the rights to the Olympic Games until 2032.
He spoke Monday on the panel with Costas and Walter Isaacson of the Aspen Institute.
Roberts explained that the last “live” Olympics for U.S. audiences was Atlanta in 1996.
With Rio in a similar time zone, the 2016 Rio Games have given NBC an opportunity to live-stream all events. That will be some 6,700 hours of live streaming and live television during the three weeks of the Rio Olympics.
“Big events in prime time have been the cornerstone of what NBC does,” Roberts said, mentioning the broadcast biggies of the Kentucky Derby, Sunday Night Football and the Olympics. He also said the company has embraced the Olympic culture from NBC with plans to accommodate virtually any viewing option for Rio.
Costas, for his part, said the Rio Olympics pose interesting questions.
“Part of the story is, can Rio pull it off?” Costas said as budget problems are forecast to affect security and transportation in Brazil for the Games.
And there’s zika.
“We’re going to see how it plays out,” said Costas, a 26-time Emmy winner who will anchor coverage at his 12th Olympics.
When asked about particular athletes to watch at Rio, Costas cited U.S. gymnast Simone Biles, who he called perhaps the greatest gymnast ever.
He also mentioned a pair of figures on the Mount Rushmore of the Olympics — swimmer Michael Phelps and sprinter Usain Bolt.
“Katie Ledecky just could be America’s star,” he said of the U.S. swimmer.
Costas also entertained the audience with an impromptu tribute to Muhammad Ali.
“The man was beautiful in a brutal sport,” he said, adding that Ali had “complete integrity.”
Costas paused, then said, “If you’re talking about impact, he’s the undisputed champ.”
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