Behind The Scenes

ESPN reports on Summer Olympics while heeding rights restrictions

ESPN’s coverage of the 2012 Olympics is dependent on compliance with non-rights holders’ restrictions.

“As with any event, the rights holder has the ability to put limitations on how and when highlights are used,” says ESPN Senior Coordinating Producer Mike Leber, who is overseeing ESPN’s Olympics coverage. “Some events have minimal restrictions, like no live look-ins, or no in-progress highlights, while others are more restrictive. The Olympics are among the most restrictive.”

That is why during each Olympiad fans are apt to question ESPN’s dearth of highlights and on-site reporting.

“As a national network, we cannot use highlights until NBC’s primetime telecast goes off the air in the Pacific Time zone — most days that means 3 a.m. ET,” Leber explains. “Where appropriate, the early morning SportsCenters will use highlights of the previous day’s events, but keep in mind that it’s already afternoon in London, and the next day’s events are starting. However, if we think the previous day’s highlights will help our storytelling, we will absolutely show them, within the limits set forth by NBC.”

There are also limits for on-site reporters (TJ Quinn and George Smith) and producers, who must rely on their relationships with the athletes — and ingenuity — to arrange interviews with Olympians.

“While we are not allowed to conduct interviews in any venue or in the athletes’ village, we aggressively pursue interviews and have had quite a bit of success in getting prominent athletes on camera,” Leber says.

And back home, fans still expect their MLB, NFL, NASCAR coverage, scores and highlights, in addition to ESPN’s reporting from London.

While fans and critics note the limitations of ESPN’s Olympic coverage every two years, viewers looking forward to primetime, tape-delayed Olympic broadcasts also question ESPN’s presentation of the Games.

“Why do you show the results in the afternoon when I want to watch it later?” they ask.

“Simply put, to serve our viewers,” Leber says. “We believe most want results, reaction, analysis and perspective as quickly as we can give it to them.”

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