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Omicron concerns a key reason NBC not sending announcers to Beijing

The risk of contracting the Omicron variant, which is "on the rise in China," is a major reason why NBC's announce teams for the Beijing Games  "will be based at the sports division's studios in Stamford, Conn.," instead of on site, according to Stephen Battaglio of the L.A. TIMES. The pageantry of the Olympics being held in a far-flung location is "part of the allure for viewers," and not having announcers on the scene "could detract from that atmosphere." However, NBC Sports Group Senior VP/Communications Greg Hughes said that viewers "may not notice the difference as announcing teams for various major sports have been working remotely since the middle of 2020." Battaglio notes while NBC faced COVID-19 challenges deploying teams to Tokyo last summer, commentators were in Japan for major events such as gymnastics and swimming, but "all other sports were covered from Stamford" (L.A. TIMES, 1/20). The AP's Joe Reedy notes announcers for alpine skiing, figure skating and snowboarding had previously been "expected to travel" to China, but NBC's plans "changed over the past couple of weeks." NBC President of Olympics & Business Gary Zenkel is "one of 250 people the network already has in Beijing," and most of those are "technical staff." Zenkel said, "We are in a closed loop. It is restrictive access, but it does allow us to access the broadcast center and venues." NBC is "expected to be transparent about the fact that its announcers are not onsite" (AP, 1/20).

CHANGE OF PLANS:  USA TODAY's Christine Brennan notes there were increasing concerns that anyone traveling to Beijing "could test positive while at the Games and have to spend days and even weeks in quarantine." Snowboarding analyst Todd Richards said that NBC "changed course this week over concerns about COVID-related restrictions." Richards: "They were a little bit wary that if someone tested positive for COVID, the Chinese government basically takes you and sequesters you. NBC has no control, so they wanted to have more control over the situation." He said that as a practical matter, the move "has little effect on his work, and that of play-by-play announcer Todd Harris, because they are not usually close enough to the course to call the action even when they are on site." Richards: "At all the Olympics anyhow, we're just staring at a computer screen" (USA TODAY, 1/20).

STAYING INFORMED: REUTERS' Dang & Coster noted NBCUniversal yesterday said that its broadcast coverage of the Beijing Games "will include the 'geopolitical context' of China as the host nation." The coverage plans, detailed in a video presentation to reporters, "followed the urgings of human rights groups and a U.S. congressional committee to cover China's rights violations during the Olympics." NBC Olympics Production Producer & President Molly Solomon said that the NBC News division, which has a Beijing bureau, "will cover the news in China, while the NBC Olympics division 'will cover the issues that impact the Games as needed.'" Solomon: "Our coverage will provide perspective on China's place in the world and the geopolitical context in which these Games are being held. But the athletes do remain the centerpiece of our coverage." She said that NBCU "will have reporters at all Olympic venues" (REUTERS, 1/19). On Long Island, Neil Best noted NBC has hired a journalist and a cultural historian who are "experts on China to work with" main studio host Mike Tirico (NEWSDAY, 1/19). 

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