Live from PyeongChang: It’s the 2018 Olympic Winter Games!

Live from PyeongChang, It’s… the 2018 Olympic Winter Games!

When the cauldron is lit on the evening of Friday, February 9th, to officially open the XXIII Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, it will also commence the three-Games long “Asian swing” of the Olympic Movement with the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing to follow.

On its surface, following a double-digit domestic U.S. ratings dip for both the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio (-15%) compared to the 2012 London Summer Olympics and the 2014 Sochi Games (-17%) from the 2010 Vancouver Games, holding three Olympics in one region, so far removed from the desirous fan bases of North America and Europe, is a risky gambit for the IOC, especially as traditional viewing habits fragment and media consumption trends evolve. However, organizers are optimistic that the 14 hour time difference between PyeongChang and U.S. Eastern time zone won’t be as significant of an issue as one might first assume.

To address this challenge, the hosts are leveraging the fact that many winter sports require natural light and as a result they will be held in optimal morning hours in South Korea, which in the process puts their live broadcast in primetime in the U.S. Meanwhile, NBC’s primetime coverage will be live across all U.S. time zones, a first for a Winter Games, delivering 2,400 total hours of coverage (including 1,800 hours of live streaming across and the NBC Sports app), more than the combined total coverage of the Vancouver and Sochi Games, and the most ever for a single Olympic Games.

So, great, there will be plenty of content, it’s all going to be live (so we don’t need to worry about someone spoiling the results for us before an event airs) and there will ample opportunity to access it. But why tune in? What are we watching? Why should we care?

Over the past several weeks the Olympic hype machine has been cranking up, aided in no small part by the fact that NBC also broadcast this year’s Super Bowl and included several incredibly dynamic commercials that put the spotlight on some of Team USA’s top medal contenders. Seriously, if you haven’t seen any of them, use the Google to check them out. They deliver all the feels that one gets when cheering for the one “home team” we can all agree on.

What else is there to know? The Olympics never lack in interesting storylines – on or off the field of play. Here are a few to follow the next two weeks:

New Events and Live, Live, Live!
The 2018 Olympic Winter Games will feature nearly 3,000 athletes from 88 nations (plus the Russian Federation – more on this later) competing in seven sports for 102 medals. There will also be four new events at these games – big air snowboarding, freestyle skiing, mass start speed skating and mixed doubles curling – and viewers across the U.S. will get to see prime-time and late-night competition live as a result of South Korea being 14 hours ahead of New York and 17 hours ahead of Los Angeles. (Have we mentioned often enough that the Olympic Winter Games will be broadcast live?)

Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself
Beyond the Vonns, Whites and Shiffrins of Team USA there are a LOT of new, fresh faces poised to capture the attention of Winter Olympic fans and build their own legacies. Chloe Kim (snowboarding), Nathan Chen (figure skating), Jessie Diggins (cross-country skiing) – to name just a few – may not be household names right now, but they may very well be in two weeks’ time. And for those of us who have been following these athletes – and working with many of them on behalf of Ketchum clients – believe me, they are ready to go from “Next” to “Now”.

A Thaw in Relations
For quite some time, there was a lot of anxiety about a potential international incident involving North Korea occurring prior to or during the Games. However, in January tensions began to ease as the North accepted the South’s invitation to send athletes to the Games, marking the first time in eight years North Korea has participating in the Winter Olympics. At its purest, it is a fantastic example of the essence of the Olympic Movement – bringing the world together – in action.

O.A.R., not just a band
There will be a couple glaring absences in PyeongChang, probably the most significant being Russia, which was banned from these games because of a doping scandal. Any athletes competing from that country will do so under the moniker “Olympic Athlete from Russia” or O.A.R. and won’t have the benefit of hearing the Russian anthem played should they win gold, nor will these athletes medal haul be added to Russia’s overall historic tally.

Another Miracle Moment?
Also missing in South Korea are players from the NHL in the men’s ice hockey tournament. Ice hockey has become one of the most popular attractions and viewership draws of the Olympic Winter Games, and while the women’s competition certainly won’t disappoint as Team USA seeks to extract a degree of revenge from rival Canada following a bitter loss in the gold medal game in Sochi, on the men’s side the NHL decided not to put their regular season on hold and as a result minor leaguers, collegians and players from other professional leagues will be filling rosters, resulting in a wide open draw with the team comprised of Russian athletes (largely from the KHL) the current favorites.

The Hard Won Hardware
The 259 sets of medals for these games are crafted in a texture to resemble tree trunks and feature dynamic diagonal lines, representing “discipline” and “determination” across the face, while the back features the emblem for the Games and the name of each event. They are also the heaviest medals in history (gold, 1.29 pounds; silver, 1.28 pounds; bronze, 1.09 pounds) and are attached to a teal-and-red ribbon comprised of a traditional textile embroidered with patterns of the host country.

New Faces Behind the Mics
There is a passing of the torch on the part of NBC. Bob Costas has ceded his primetime host chair to Mike Tirico and Hoda Kotb will co-anchor Today with Savannah Guthrie beginning February 12. Cast changes aside, viewers can still expect not only emotional interviews with all of Team USA’s gold medal winners, but also insightful stories about the staging of these Games, as well as dynamic features on Korean culture and society.

Over the next two weeks, history will be made, heroes will emerge, new brand ambassadors will be born and there will be no shortage of drama, pride and inspiration. But, just as importantly, the IOC and it’s broadcast partners will be learning valuable lessons that will be carried forward through the next two Olympics, as the international sporting spotlight shines on Asia.