Olympics Overhaul: NBC Bets on Snoop Dogg, Peacock and Wild Ideas to Ensure the 2024 Paris Games Are a Ratings Bonanza

What do Peyton Manning, Snoop Dogg, Kelly Clarkson, Mike Tirico and Jimmy Fallon have in common?

This is not a joke — at least not to the leaders of NBC­ Universal and a small army of NBC Sports producers hunkered down at offices in Stamford, Conn., and Paris, France.

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The answer is the Paris Olympics, which will be telecast in the U.S. with a markedly different approach this summer. Primetime coverage will be aimed at a much broader crowd than it has for recent Olympic Games. NBCUniversal has $7.8 billion on the hi line in rights fees for the Games through 2032, and that nine­figure commitment is forcing the company to shore up its investment by proving that the Olympics is still a cultural juggernaut. To achieve that in today’s fractured media environment, it needs to make its Olympics coverage more user-­friendly and tailor it to many specific audiences, from the casual sports viewer to rabid fans of obscure competitions.

With so much at stake, it’s little wonder that Molly Solomon, an executive producer at NBC, who’s leading the Olympics coverage, tells her team to “be ruthless.” When it comes to primetime TV in the streaming era, she reminds them, “every second does count.” If something is bor­ing, she says, “kill it.”

Variety Olympics Cover 2024
Variety Olympics Cover 2024

NBCUniversal can’t afford to be beholden to the traditions established when it first landed Olympics rights for the U.S. in 1988. The company is banking on the appeal of the city of Paris and a parade of pop-­culture figures to bring pizzazz to about 7,000 hours of competi­tion coverage and related programming that will run from July 26 through Aug. 11.

“This kind of celebrity wouldn’t have been part of NBC Olympics coverage of the past. Now it’s one of the foundational elements,” says Rick Cordella, president of NBC Sports. “We’ve got to be innovating, trying things differently, trying to match where the media world is in 2024.”

Snoop Dogg Olympics
Snoop Dogg Olympics

One big change from recent years will be that all events will be streamed in real-time via Pea­cock, which has added an elaborate Olympics content hub to its platform. In the past, the NBC broadcast network carried taped highlights of the most popular events during U.S. primetime hours. Making events available live, as they hap­pen in France, means that NBC will need to have different Olympics programming during prime­ time — a curated show that will combine event highlights with entertainment and stars com­menting on the Games in the hopes of luring sports fans and channel surfers. In short, NBC’s primetime Olympics coverage may at times feel more like a variety show filmed in Paris.

To pull that off, NBCU has turned to a deep bench of talent — from Fallon to Clarkson to a variety of social ­media influencers. Snoop Dogg will deliver man­-on­-the-­street observations as he brings his blunt humor (and maybe even some blunts) to help enliven the primetime coverage. Manning and Clarkson will serve as co­hosts with Tirico for the glitzy opening cer­emony on July 26. Fallon will join with Tirico for the closing ceremony on Aug. 11. In the past, those hosting assignments usually went to NBC News stars. On Peacock, which draws a younger audience, NBCU has drafted Alex Cooper, the podcast megastar and host of “Call Her Daddy,” to offer her thoughts on the buzz surrounding the Games. She’ll also host a series of interactive Olympics watch parties for Peacock.

In something that might seem more at home on “America’s Got Talent” or “The Voice,” the network even plans to deploy five heart-­rate monitors among the parents of athletes. The results will be shown on­screen as moms and dads watch their kids compete — something that test audiences have loved. Will the medical devices have an on-screen sponsor?  “We are talking about it.” says Dan Lovinger, the NBC ad-sales executive who is responsible for snaring hundreds of millions in ad support.

“It’s important for us to have some new voices and some fan voices,” Solomon says. The Games are “primarily for sports,” she says, but there’s nothing wrong with “a couple of short bursts of energy.”

Clarkson hopes to be one of those bursts. “I love finding out how people overcome their circumstances, how they get to where they are, especially at this level,” she says. “I love the human story.”

Producing the Olympics is a Herculean task in any year. Solomon (the first woman to exec­ utive produce the Olympics for NBC) and her lieutenants are facing the potential for disaster if the new ethos around the presentation of the Games falls flat with the core audience of ded­icated sports fans. NBCU has already captured about $1.2 billion in Olympics ad revenue com­mitments; if viewership is weak, the company will face backlash from Madison Avenue.


The Olympics are billed as the pinnacle of sports, but it can be a tough sell if the athletes aren’t well known. The Games have to generate fan interest in a relatively short time, compared with a baseball or basketball team that has a months-long season that builds toward playoffs and championship games.

“You have a combination of the excitement for some of these sports with the fact that not many of them are household names,” says Daniel Cohen, executive VP of media rights consulting at Octagon, a sports­management unit of Interpublic Group. “We haven’t seen a Phelps in a while,” he says, referring to Michael Phelps, the swimmer whose exploits buoyed the 2012 Summer Games in London and the 2016 Olympics in Rio. NBC is “injecting that celebrity, that household name, but doing it through com­ mentary and talking heads and play by play.”

In addition to testing a primetime show that juggles sports with celebrity appearances, the group also needs to make sure the sports die­ hards are satisfied by Peacock’s live­-event cov­erage, which will be enhanced by all manner of interactive stats, athlete profiles and other dig­ ital bells and whistles. One of NBCU’s key long­ term goals is to use the Olympics as a showcase to draw more paid subscribers to the outlet. The company also needs to use Paris to get viewers excited about the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028. Those will be the first Games to take place in the U.S. since 2002, when the Winter Games were held in Salt Lake City. Traditionally, Olympics held in the U.S. whip up American audiences, boosting profits for U.S. networks.

NBCUniversal’s scramble to reinvent its Olympics coverage reflects broader trends in sports on TV, which is the last genre of programming that can still reliably draw large audiences. For decades, everything from NFL football to bowling has been telecast with an emphasis on showing “the thrill of victory … and the agony of defeat” (as ABC’s long­-running “Wide World of Sports” once described it). But these days, to keep the crowds big and to help cover the ever-­increasing costs of sports rights fees, networks are trying to turn game coverage into pop­-culture events. ESPN’s success with its alternative “Monday Night Football” telecast featuring commentary from former NFL quar­terbacks Peyton Manning and Eli Manning has opened the floodgates of experimentation with sports telecasts.

Amazon’s Prime Video has tapped the com­ edy group Dude Perfect to simulcast commen­tary on its streams of “Thursday Night Football.” The NHL and NBA have tested games that use animated Disney and Marvel characters. This year’s Super Bowl was the most watched in the history of the event, but it was also the first example of a big game being shown four different ways — a mainstay broadcast on CBS; a streaming version on Paramount+; some­ thing for the kids and their parents on Nickel­ odeon; and a Spanish-­language counterpart on Univision.

NBCUniversal executives freely acknowledge the Games have given the company a rough ride in the recent past. The Winter Games in Pyeong­-chang, South Korea, in 2018, presented time­ zone challenges for U.S. telecasts, and there were worries about how North Korea would behave. The 2021 Summer Games in Tokyo — delayed a year by COVID — generated less excitement than usual; because fans weren’t allowed in the stands, NBC Sports had a hard time creating the on­-the­-ground vignettes that are a signa­ture element of its coverage. Finally, the Winter Games in Beijing, in 2022, spurred a torrent of criticism around China’s human-­rights record.


After all this, it’s no surprise that some adver­tisers want new ideas. “The tonality of everything changed during the Games’ Asian swing,” says Jeremy Carey, chief investment officer for Optimum Sports. But there is also optimism as the 2024 Games approach. Getting an Olympics “closer to home, in a big city like Paris — we are incredibly excited for it,” Carey says, “and we’ve got Olympic advertisers that are super excited as well.”

Before Solomon and her team plunge into the ins and outs of diving completions and soccer matches, they take time during a recent planning meeting to discuss something really im­portant: a Snoop Dogg update. “He wants to be the biggest kid at the Olym­pics, to be silly, to be sincere,” Solomon tells her crew after paying the entrepreneur a visit.

“He wants to ‘celebrate love and respect.’ Those are really his words. He really wants to be Snoop on the loose and to follow the Dogg, double­-G.”

Solomon has grown accustomed to covering new terrain. She was promoted to her current role as Olympics executive producer just before NBC dove into the Tokyo Games. She’s keenly aware of how quickly viewing habits shift in the era of on-­demand streaming. She uses her family as a focus group, studying how her chil­dren consume their favorite shows to guide her on how to tell the stories of the Olympics. She hopes the recent audience bonanza har­ vested by the NCAA women’s basketball tour­ nament bodes well for the Paris Olympics, which will feature the return of both gymnast Sim­ one Biles and swimmer Katie Ledecky. There’s also a men’s basketball tournament that will draw from a potential roster of U.S. players that includes LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Joel Embiid.

She also knows how to keep her eye on the ball, so to speak. When a previous NBC Sports president called Solmon to tell her about her Olympics appointment, she was playing golf in Orlando and needed to finish her round before she would speak with him.  “I wasn’t going to talk to anyone while I was on the 16th hole,” Solomon quips.

This isn’t the first time NBC has woven someone from outside the sports world into tis Olympics proceedings.  Producers reached out to Ryan Seacrest to host late-night coverage from Rio in 2016, and they did so in the hopes he would bring some part of his social-media cohort along for the ride.

Still, it's really the competitors who count. When formulating Olympics plans, “you really have to hope” for a breakout by a par­ticular athlete, says Jim Bell, a former NBCU executive who helped produce multiple Olym­pic Games. “With COVID and some of the other factors in the last two Olympics, it has been tough. There were barely any people in the stands, and they were on the other side of the world. Now you’ve got a signature location and it’s the City of Light, the City of Love, and you have all this good energy coming back.” The celebrities represent something NBC pro­ ducers can count on as they wait for heroes to emerge -- still a critical element, says Bell. Nothing succeeds like "American athletes with medals around their necks and great images of their families in the stands celebrating.”

NBC has spent months trying to make viewers familiar with the new format. Promos for the Summer Olympics, which have been running since 2023, have relied not on athletic hopefuls but on influencers with big social-­media foll­owings, like Paris Hilton and Megan Thee Stal­lion. In the past, NBC has started promoting its Olympics telecasts about a year in advance, says Jenny Storms, chief marketing officer of entertainment and sports for NBCUniversal, and has usually relied on athletic themes. For this Olympics, Dolly Parton and Lily Collins have done promotional turns.

“Everything we’ve done has been starting from scratch,” says Storms. “It’s been an exer­cise in bravery, taking something you have done for so long and starting as if you’ve never done it before.”

Solomon says her team has developed new rules for breaking the old ones. Some of them defy conventional wisdom. NBC’s primetime presentation of highlights from earlier in the day, Solomon tells the assembled staffers in Stamford, “is an encore presentation. Some­ thing has to reach a really high bar to deserve a second airing. And if it does deserve a second airing, what are we doing to enhance it, since it was live during the day?”

COOPER Olympics
COOPER Olympics

Her comments reveal how quickly technol­ogy has overturned TV’s rules of engagement. Peacock is the place where Olympics fans can watch every event live in its entirety, but it will also offer a new show called “Gold Zone,” which will move quickly from event to event, searching for the most interesting or decisive moments of competition à la the NFL’s RedZone service.

“It should be perhaps one of the more sought­ after and viewed streams that we offer,” says Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics, who has supervised all Olympics business activity since 2005.

NBC estimates more than 20% of Olympics viewership will come from the Peacock stream­ing platform. That percentage will only grow over the next few years. Dan Lovinger, the NBC ad sales executive, says that the pressure to prioritize primetime view­ing has eased, even though advertising rates are still highest for such old­-fashioned viewing on NBC.

“Whether they’re watching linear or digital, we don’t really care,” says Lovinger. “We mon­etize all platforms. I’m very confident that this will be the most supported Olympic Games of all time — in dollars,” he says, adding, “That’s what we count.”

All NBC needs now is for the Games to start. Executives know “pretty early” if the Games are working or not, says Zenkel, based on audience data and social media. “You prepare as well as you can,” he says, “and then you turn on the switch.”

As for Solomon, all she can really do is try to put on a good show. Can everything work? In the streaming era, it’s really up to the crowds. ”We won’t know until we know.”

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