Five thousand five hundred thirty-five hours.
That's the staggering amount of air time NBC Universal plans to devote to covering the 2012 London Olympic Games.
"If you were to stretch that out on a line across one 24-hour television network, it's 7.6 months of content," says Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group, the man in charge of televising this once-every-four-years global sports spectacular. "It's a heck of a lot of content to take place over 17 days."
In addition to 272.5 hours of coverage on NBC (beginning with the Opening Ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Friday), there will be an almost endless flow of sports programming, most of it airing live, on NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, Telemundo, two additional specialty channels and NBCOlympics.com (which will live-stream every event and sport for the first time ever).
What this all means is that fans of the Olympics no longer are at the mercy of network TV executives to decide which events they will watch and when they will see them.
As long as viewers are equipped with cable connections or satellite dishes and have Internet access and mobile apps, they have freedom of choice and complete control.
It's a far cry from the days when ABC served up a mere 77 hours of the 1976 Summer Games. Or when NBC got the bright idea to offer three separate feeds -- only three! -- with its pay-per-view Triplecast package in 1992. Or when so much of NBC's feed from Sydney in 2000 was tape-delayed that longtime Olympic host Bob Costas now quips, "It was almost like we were on the History channel."
The technology wasn't in place to deliver this much live content even in 2008.
The 3,600 hours of Beijing Summer Games coverage seemed like a massive amount of programming until now.
In return for offering 17 days of sports sensory overload, NBC executives are expecting to set ratings records that would dwarf some of TV's biggest success stories.
"These Olympics will be huge," says Alan Wurtzel, NBC's president of research and media development. "Without question, they're going to dominate 17 nights of prime time. I believe they will rank in the top five of the most-watched events in television history, with north of 200 million viewers."
That forecast might reflect a bit of wishful thinking, but there's every reason to believe that Lazarus is correct in predicting that these Games will be "the biggest digital event of all time."
After all, the sky is the limit with NBCOlympics.
com live-streaming 3,500-plus hours, including the awarding of all 302 medals, and with the exponential growth of an audience capable of watching live via desktop PCs, tablets and mobile devices.
One of the most monumental online breakthroughs of these Olympics is that there will be multiple concurrent streams for select sports, such as gymnastics (each apparatus), track and field (each event), and tennis (up to five courts).
That means, during a session of track and field, for example, instead of viewing only a single feed that moves from event to event, a user can choose to watch a stream dedicated to a specific event, such as the long jump or javelin.
Never before have sports viewers been so empowered.
But it's not just the Internet coverage that has been bolstered.
NBC's daytime coverage is being significantly increased, beginning on most weekdays at 9 a.m. Central Time, immediately following NBC News' Today show, which is originating from London. On weekends, NBC's daytime coverage will begin as early as 4 a.m.
NBC Sports Network will serve as the home to U.S. team sports, with 292.5 hours of coverage, an average of more than 14 hours per day, the most ever for an Olympic cable network.
CNBC will serve as the home of Olympic boxing, including the debut of women's boxing. The channel will televise 73 hours, from elimination bouts to the men's and women's finals.
Bravo will be the home of Olympic tennis, with 56 hours of long-form tennis coverage.
MSNBC will weigh in with 155.5 hours of long-form Olympic programming.
Telemundo will provide more than 173 hours of Spanish-language coverage (nearly equaling the total coverage broadcast by NBC for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics).
And specialty channels for basketball and soccer have been established for cable and satellite providers, totaling 770 hours of coverage.
The more things change
All of which is well and good, says Costas, who is serving as NBC's prime-time Olympic host for the ninth time, but there are some things about the broadcasts that simply won't change.
"The essence of good storytelling and the essence of good broadcast remains the same," Costas says. "The essence of how you call a ballgame doesn't change. There may be different camera angles, there may be different graphics, there may be ways that you can interact with social media, some of where we funnel the viewership may be different, but the way in which I anchor the Games is not much different."