Peacock struts at Sochi

The opening cermony of the Sochi Olympics. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky))
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Alex Weprin

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The chairman of NBC Sports, Mark Lazarus, remains adamant that timeshifting and subsequently cutting down the Sochi Olympic opening ceremonies was a good idea.

"I continue to believe, having now been in the stadium to watch Opening Ceremonies and watching it on television, that historical, cultural context and relevance make it a more enjoyable and informative experience," Lazarus told reporters in a conference call. Despite that, he says he expects the 2016 Opening Ceremony will air live in primetime, owing to it being in Brazil, just an hour ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time.

He also addressed criticism, which appeard in a number of outlets, notably Deadspin, that NBC cut out key moments from International Olympic Committee chairman Thomas Bach's speech, moments that seemed to be aimed squarely at Russia's politics.

"He repeated his message several times in different ways throughout that speech, we edited for time and time only," Lazarus said. "His message was that of tolerance, anti-discrimination inclusion and we fully support for the IOC’s reviews on these issues.

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"We’ve had private conversations with them since then on this topic and those conversations, no matter how you try to ask us, will remain private," Lazarus added. "We had to fit into the window so we edited small portions to get to that point. But President Bach’s message of tolerance and inclusion was loud and clear and we support it, as I said."

Ratings for Sochi have remained strong, even if down slightly from Vancouver. That said, NBC research chief Alan Wurtzel says that the company's expanded digital offerings--including livestreams for authenticated pay-TV subscribers--are driving viewership in primetime. Wurtzel says that NBC is conducting a study of 300 people watching the games, and tracking that data.

"Look, you cannot go nine hours and not hear about results but apparently, for most viewers, it just doesn’t matter," Wurtzel told reporters yesterday. "Forty-four percent said they heard results on Saturday prior to Sunday but it had no impact. In fact, over one third said it made them more interested in the games and only 15 percent said knowing them — the results — made them less interested."

"We’ve done a lot of learning," Lazarus added. "We learned a lot in London where we aired certain events live that had previously been saved for primetime. We’ve applied that learning here. We’ll learn from these Olympics and we’ll continue to apply it to Rio and beyond as well."

NBC says that one thing it is seeing this time around are videos that have gone viral in an organic way. The "wardrobe malfunction"of Russian speedskater Olga Graf, who began removing her suit before realizing she had nothing on underneath, drew 2.5 million viewers online. Video of an Indian luger falling off and getting back on drew 1.5 million, while a clip of the Russian Police Choir singing Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" drew 1.2 million views.

Finally, Lazarus talked about NBC's primetime and late night anchor Bob Costas, who has missed two nights due to an eye infection. News about Costas is spreading just as fast as news about the athletes

"I’m not surprised it’s attracted this much attention," Lazarus said. "Bob is America’s Olympic host and people have been watching Bob do this and do it extraordinarily well for several decades. So in a way, they’ve come to expect him being here and when he’s not it’s a story.

He’s very frustrated – more frustrated than any of us," Lazarus added. "We’re taking it day by day and we’re hopeful that Bob will be back in the chair soon."