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Jim Bell on Savannah Guthrie, Olympic Ratings, and Tape Delays

SiriusXM host Chris Russo spoke with “Today” show EP Jim Bell, who is also executive producer for NBC’s coverage of the London Olympics. Russo and Bell talked about both “Today’s” recent changes and the blockbuster ratings so far for NBC’s coverage of the London games.

Russo: “Have you been happy with Savannah Guthrie so far?”

Bell: “I love Savannah Guthrie. We’ve been thrilled with Savannah Guthrie. She’s an amazing talent, a lawyer. She’s got a big personality. She’s smart. I think the thing about the Today show is, you know, it really is, it’s the smart show, it’s the show really where people want to know the news and focus on what’s going on in the world, but also from people that they know, like and trust. And she certainly has been everything we’d hoped for.”

Russo: “In your wildest dreams did you think [the Olympic ratings would] be this good?”

Bell: “No, we didn’t. They are well above what we had expected. Those expectations were largely based on the Athens Olympics, which were the last European-based Olympics, which is a situation where you know you’re going to be taping things to air them in primetime because it’s obviously in the middle of the night [in Europe] during primetime in the United States. And in Beijing, as you know, we had just the incredible advantage of showing all those great swimming races and some of the gymnastics live because the time difference was so extreme. And so we thought if we can kind of keep it where we did in Athens that’s going to be a big win. Well, we’ve gone well beyond that and we’ve still got a long way to go here but the early results have just been hugely, hugely satisfying.”

Russo: “Do you not put things on live in the middle of the afternoon because you’re worried about highlights being shown all over the place or you can’t put them on live in the afternoon because you’ve promised your advertisers that when they are shown in primetime on delay it’s the first time America’s going to get a chance to see them?”

Bell: “Well, no, I think, it’s more the former, Chris. When a company invests the kind of money that we have in the Olympics we have absolutely every right to protect that investment. It’s the video, it’s the sports, it’s those kinds of things. We’ve tried to utilize new technology to stream everything live, all the events live for the hard core sports fan. But the fact is, and the numbers would seem to bear this out, there’s still a huge audience out there of people who want to watch this stuff at a time when it is convenient for them, when there are mass audiences, when people can gather around and watch TV, and one of the last great family viewing events out there. You’ve got a family, Chris, you know what it’s like. I’ve got young kids. One’s on the Xbox, the other’s on the iPad, the other’s on Facebook, you’re watching the Giants game. This is one thing you watch together. And if you kind of end up giving it away, some of the stuff, on TV you’re not protecting your investment and you’re not serving the audience and you’re not serving the affiliates and you’re not serving the advertisers.”

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