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The new faces of NBC's Olympics coverage

A new(ish) face will be leading NBCUniversal's prime-time coverage of the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games: veteran sportscaster Mike Tirico.

Why it matters: It's Tirico's first run as prime-time host for the Summer Olympics. Legendary broadcaster Bob Costas hosted 12 Olympic Games between 1988 and 2016 for NBC before handing over the prime-time spot to Tirico in 2018.

Tirico's role is just one of the changes viewers can expect to see in this year's Summer Olympics coverage.

  • One familiar face that's new to the Olympics will be MSNBC political data guru Steve Kornacki. He will help Tirico and other hosts analyze data in real time, like Olympic medal counts, scores, records and more.
  • Other prominent people will join as special correspondents for NBC, including skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, figure skating gold medalist Tara Lipinski, and Olympic figure skater and television commentator Johnny Weir.
  • Rebecca Lowe will serve as NBC’s daytime coverage host. 
  • In total, there are a record 178 commentators guiding NBCUniversal's coverage of the Games across all of NBCU's channels, including NBC, USA Network, CNBC, NBCSN and NBC's Olympic streaming channel.

In addition, NBC's coverage plans will differ dramatically this year from previous Olympic Games.

  • While the Olympics have been livestreamed since 2012, this is the first time NBC Universal will have its new streaming service, Peacock, available to stream events.

How it works: Tirico is one of the most versatile sports broadcasters in the world, but in an interview with Axios, he said the Olympics "requires much more knowledge of history and preparation than covering a professional sports event."

  • "The two could not be more opposite and are quite different jobs," he said.
  • "When calling a game, you do as deep a dive as possible on the two teams competing. ... The Olympics have approximately 11,000 athletes and over 200 nations, so a deep dive like football preparation is impractical and as prime-time host unnecessary."
  • Tirico says that at a higher level, his preparation has been about "developing a familiarity with the host nation, the geopolitical issues surrounding the Games, and the historical context of the overall event." For the events that play a big part in NBC's prime-time coverage, he has more in-depth preparation.

The big picture: A COVID Olympics presents unique challenges for NBCU and its television hosts. So many new issues around health and safety precautions and geopolitics will undoubtedly affect the tone of the event.

  • "I think there has to be honesty with the viewers," he said. "I think it will be important for us to read and assess the tone of the athletes when we are there and share that with the viewers."

Catch up quick: Tirico, 54, isn't a newcomer to the Olympics, but this will likely be his most visible Olympics to date. He first served as an NBC prime-time host during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. He was a daytime anchor for the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.

  • Tirico got his start at ESPN in 1991 after spending four years as a sports director at a local radio station in Syracuse, the city home to his alma mater.
  • Despite accusations of sexual harassment that resulted in a suspension from ESPN in the early 1990s, he eventually went on to grow his career at the network for 25 years before heading to NBC in 2015.

What to expect: "My role is to put what happens in perspective, either before or after the event," Tirico says. He will rely on a stable of experts and analysts to provide insights into different sports and events as they unfold.

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