NEW YORK (AP) — The first full day of February's Sochi Olympics, American television viewers can watch a marquee event live from Russia — in the morning.
In a shift from NBC's coverage of past games outside North America, nearly every figure skating performance will air on cable during the day, with the key moments shown on tape delay on the main network that night as in previous Olympics.
So if fans want to, they'll see the women's gold-medal-winning performance on NBCSN when it happens, instead of waiting until that evening. But they can also watch it again hours later, accompanied by the polished features that are the staple of NBC's prime-time broadcasts.
For years, the network's argument for holding back the most high-profile events was that nighttime is when the most people are free to watch TV — and when advertisers and local affiliates benefit most. In one sense, nothing has changed.
"First and foremost, our mission is to protect prime time — that's still the No. 1 priority," said Jim Bell, the executive producer for NBC Olympics.
But the other priority is to get more people to pay attention, and for those who already care to stick around longer. Meanwhile, technology kept evolving, and at the 2012 Summer Games in London, NBC started streaming every sport live online.
The network discovered it didn't hurt prime-time ratings — and may have even helped.
"We think based on London those two goals align perfectly," Bell said Tuesday. "We took a risk in streaming everything live from London. The biggest takeaway was we amplified and enhanced the audience's Olympic experience."
Even with the success of the streaming in 2012, the network still received some criticism for not airing popular events live on TV. Especially on weekends, sports fans are used to watching important games in the early afternoon. And some people are unwilling or unable to log into the online broadcasts, which will again be available for every sport from Sochi.
With the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver, NBC could broadcast figure skating live in prime time. But there is a nine-hour difference between Sochi and the U.S. Eastern time zone.