NBC Olympics President Defends Lack of Paralympics Live Coverage

UPDATED: Gary Zenkel tells a conference in London that U.S. audiences and advertisers are "fatigued" following the Summer Olympics given the two events follow each other so closely.

Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics, on Friday defended NBC's limited Paralympics coverage here in the host city of this year's Olympics and Paralympics, citing audience fatigue and limited financial support from advertisers.

NBC had been criticized by various organizations for not showing any live coverage. It provided four hour-long highlight specials on the NBC Sports network and one 90-minute recap show about a week after the Paralympics. In the U.K., Channel 4 hit various ratings records for the network with its coverage of the Paralympics.

Speaking on a panel organized by the Royal Television Society, Zenkel said his company provided a "fair amount of coverage," more than in the past and :would love to do more" in the future, but he also emphasized that the Paralympics are "an event whose positioning two to three weeks after the Olympics is difficult."

Emphasizing that NBC is a commercial broadcaster, he signaled he was open to discussions with organizers on how to make the Paralympics a better business proposition.

Emphasizing that U.S. viewers commit much time to the Olympics, he said: "People really do completely alter their lifestyle. they top doing their laundry, They don't go to the laundry, don't go to the movies. Reassembling that audience afterwards is difficult. And advertisers also are fatigued."

He expressed NBC's respect and belief in the power of the Paralympics and their ability to inspire though.

Discussing the Summer Olympics, Zenkel reiterated that it was "a great triumph" that "bodes well" for future Olympics in the U.S. Overall, his team left London with a good feeling for "how great the future of the Olympics as a media property will be," he said.

He told his U.K. audience that the Olympics have in the U.S. often drawn "a massive primetime audience," which NBC needed to protect.But he once again talked up NBCUniversal's increased digital content offerings. "It was great validation that the more content we made available, the more viewing we would realize during the evening shared viewing," Zenkel said.

During the same panel discussion, the digital consumption and use of new technologies in Olympics coverage was in focus.

Ralph Rivera, futures director at the BBC, said that that more than 50 percent of the digital viewing of the Olympics on weekends happened via tablets and other mobile devices rather than via computers.

And BSkyB COO Mike Darcey said that the U.K. pay TV giant, which carried 24 Olympics and three Paralympics content feeds, tried to pursue the BBC to do more 3D coverage of the Olympics. But the public broadcaster only produced limited 3D programming, to which BSkyB added about 100 hours in 3D from Eurosport.

"We never got a proper test of 3D," he said. But around 300,000 homes watched the 3D content that BSkyB offered at some point. That is in line with the number of BSkyB homes that are equipped with 3D-enabled TV devices.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai