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Enlist Both Stars and Influencers

Enlist Both Stars and Influencers

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Last November, Steven Spielberg stepped onto an Industrial Light & Magic virtual production stage on the Universal Studios lot. Behind him, a virtual rendition of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine River began to move across the massive screens.

Spielberg, however, was not shooting an upcoming film. He wasn’t directing at all. Spielberg was the star of this shoot, a promotional project called “Land of Stories,” meant to tee up NBC’s upcoming coverage of the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

Spielberg’s involvement is part of a larger push connected to this year’s games, with NBC deciding to lean into celebrities and famous faces: In the promotions ahead of the event, in live coverage, and in packaged segments.

Steven Spielberg narrates “Land of Stories” to promote NBCUniversal‘s Olympics coverage.

That includes Peyton Manning and Kelly Clarkson, who will join Mike Tirico as hosts of the opening ceremony July 26, and Jimmy Fallon, who will co-host the closing ceremony alongside Tirico, Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski and Terry Gannon.

During the games, celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Leslie Jones will serve as correspondents, with Snoop popping up at famous spots around Paris. Jones, Manning, and Call Her Daddy podcast host Alex Cooper will conduct interviews, with Cooper also hosting a watch party for Peacock, where Kenan Thompson and Kevin Hart will host a highlights show.

Commercials previewing the games have starred Manning, Cardi B, and Paris Hilton.

And NBC is sending Saturday Night Live Weekend Update host Colin Jost to Tahiti to cover the surfing competition (the surfing play-by-play announcers will be calling the event from Connecticut).

“The Olympics really are a combination of all the genres on TV that people love,” says Molly Solomon, the executive producer of NBC’s Olympics coverage, and the president of production. “And as Steven Spielberg said [in the commercial], that’s a template for a great story, particularly in this age of cynicism.”

The last two Olympics – the COVID-delayed Tokyo games in 2021 and the 2022 winter games in Beijing – were not what NBC was hoping for. The pandemic meant that strict protocols were in place, leading to mostly empty, quiet venues, while family members stayed in the U.S. and watched on TV.

The network did its best to bring some emotion to its broadcasts but executives have acknowledged that the production didn’t have the drama and excitement that having everyone in the same room brings. One senior NBC executive said that the last “normal” Olympics may have been the 2012 London games, with Rio 2016 being dominated by Zika Virus concerns, and the conversation in Sochi 2014 centered around Russia’s human rights issues.

They view 2024 as a reset, both in terms of returning to pre-COVID production standards, and as part of a larger effort to bring in younger audiences who may not remember what the games used to be like.

“This is the one thing that actually brings 200-plus nations and territories together in peace and enjoyment,” Tirico says. “So without getting too Pollyanna about it, I think it’s a great time for it and a great place for it.”

The cornucopia of celebrities is in that regard a conscious effort to bring new people to the Olympics, or bring some who lapsed during the pandemic back into the fold.

“It’s not just throwing names on the marquee,” Tirico says. “It’s more of a collective effort to connect with viewers who maybe wouldn’t otherwise be coming. Get them in the tent, and most people who come into the Olympic tent end up enjoying it.”

NBC is also planning a social media onslaught, enlisting 27 creators on TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat, Meta, and Overtime to join them in Paris and cover the stories on the ground.

“They are going over to Paris with us so that they can tell the story of the Olympics through their unique lens,” says Jenny Storms, the CMO of entertainment and sports for NBCUniversal, adding that the creators will have “unprecedented” access at the games.

For many Gen Z consumers, the creators are probably far more familiar to them than the celebrity hosts.

According to Storms, the company conducted research asking consumers about the Olympics and their media habits, leading to its new approach to the games.

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“We were just asking them, what does spark conversation in your life? What are some of the things that then end up being your conversations?” Storms says. “And the answer, unsurprisingly, was, oh, it’s celebrity, something happens with celebrity. And so that was the kernel and the nugget.”

The result is apparent in its coverage plans, with correspondents like Snoop and Jost, but also celebrities taking over roles that in the past had been the fiefdoms of NBC News reporters: The profiles and interviews.

Manning profiled shotput star Ryan Crouser; Cooper interviewed Simone Biles; Jones spoke to Katie Ledecky.

The Olympic rings are seen on the Eiffel Tower on June 28, 2024 in Paris, France. The 2024 Summer Olympic Games begin on July 26.

Executives say the results prove out their thesis, with Solomon noting that Jones and Ledecky struck up a friendship after the Rio games, Manning was excited to tease out Crouser’s football past, and Cooper brought out a side of Biles that hadn’t been seen in other interviews.

“I’ve watched her [Biles] interviewed many times. I’ve never seen her like that,” Tirico says of Cooper’s interview with Biles.

“When you hear this piece, it’s Katie, I would say more honest and candid than ever before,” Solomon says of Jones’ interview. “I do think these famous faces and new voices are really helping to bring out the personalities to the athletes, and hopefully connect them to a new a new viewership demo.”

While the athletes and the athletic feats will still be the stars of the games, NBC clearly believes that a little extra star power – whether it is Snoop Dogg at Versailles, Cooper interviewing Biles, or Jost surfing in Tahiti — can help rejuvenate a broadcast that had been tempered by the pandemic, even if the basic formula remains more or less the same.

“What do these celebrities do? It allows us to have different ways to tell the stories we’ve told for years,” Tirico says, noting the “celebrity culture” in the U.S. “So I applaud our folks for one, going down that road. And secondly, if there has been an erosion in that large block of people who would come to the Olympics no matter what, this allows us to tap into different sources of people to reconnect that Olympic passion.”

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