NEW YORK – Usain Bolt could be defending his Olympic 200-meter title on a Thursday afternoon in the United States.
Fans will be able to watch the race live online for the first time during this summer's London Games, but what they'll see is very different from the tape-delayed, prime-time package that will still air a few hours later.
NBC executives decided to shift from their longtime philosophy and make every event available as it happens, convinced that the plan will build interest in the Olympics and not siphon off viewership from the traditional nightly broadcasts. That means the Internet streams will be fairly minimalistic, a move aimed at tempting fans to re-watch the competition in a more stylized presentation on the network that evening.
"You'll be able to live the moment," said Rick Cordella, the vice president and general manager for NBC Sports Digital.
The online coverage will use the world feed instead of NBC camera angles. That's what viewers in many smaller countries see on their local networks, so the production is high quality, if less specialized than Americans are used to for the Olympics. There will be basic graphics and, for some popular sports, announcers from the Olympic Broadcasting Services.
Cordella said he didn't know yet which commentators would call high-profile events like track, swimming and gymnastics for the OBS.
And if Bolt wins in another world record, fans will have to wait until prime time to see a post-race interview.
"It's not infringing upon prime time," Cordella said.
NBCOlympics.com streamed many smaller sports live during the 2008 Beijing Olympics for a total of 2,200 hours, but the big-ticket events were held back. This year, more than 3,500 hours will be shown on the website. For the top sports, replays will not be available online until after the event airs in prime time.
The service will include extra feeds for certain sports — fans can watch each apparatus in its entirety during gymnastics and up to five courts for tennis.
Most of the Internet streams will be available only to viewers who subscribe to cable or satellite services. They will need to "authenticate," log in to prove they are customers. The "TV Everywhere" model has become popular with many networks as a way to allow viewers to watch programs on multiple devices while encouraging them to stick with cable and satellite providers. Cordella said he believed viewers were becoming more familiar with the process.
Social media has proliferated since Beijing, and NBC is counting on buzz from viewers who watch events live to attract others to the prime-time broadcasts.
"If Bolt sets a record and prances over the finish line," Cordella said, "you want to see that."