Are you ready for 5,535 hours of Olympics TV coverage?

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London 2012 will be the Olympics of Ryan Lochte vs. Michael Phelps, of Serena Williams going for her first gold medal in singles, of sprinters Yohan Blake vs. Usain Bolt.

It's also the Olympics that will forever change the way the world watches them.

"This just shows how far technology has come," said Bob Grove, Comcast spokesman. "It's as they advertise, 'TV Everywhere.' You watch what you want, when you want it, how you want it."

NBC, which paid $2 billion for the broadcast rights to the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver as well as next month's extravaganza in London, is taking a new, digital tack.

Every Olympic event will be available live, over multiple NBC networks. For example, tennis, played on the hallowed grass at Wimbledon, will be streamed live from five courts on Bravo. It also will be available via mobile apps.

The network reportedly lost money in its broadcast of the 2010 Games. No network wants to risk siphoning off viewers by sending them online, but NBC Sports is betting the enhanced experience will swing viewers back to the television broadcasts.

"There are traditionalists who say 'This will cannibalize us,' " said NBCUniversal chief executive Steven Burke in a Wall Street Journal interview. "But I think we're in a world that is so fragmented you want to do everything you can [to attract viewers]."

For the athletes, four years might not seem very long. But the digital leap between 2008's summer games in Beijing and Friday's opening ceremonies will be worthy of Bob Beamon's phenomenal record-breaking long jump in 1968.

Facebook had about 100 million subscribers in 2008; it's almost a billion now. Twitter was a few years old but didn't hit the mainstream public eye until events such as the 2009 "Miracle on the Hudson" featured a Tweet from someone on a nearby ferry.

The "second screen" concept of watching television while chatting, via social media, was similarly obscure.

Which is why NBCUniversal's promise to bring Olympic audiences 5,535 hours of coverage on nine networks, including specialty high-definition channels for basketball, soccer and events in 3-D, borders on, literally, eye-popping.

The "NBC Olympics Live Extra" app will allow users to live stream more than 3,500 hours of content, including all 32 sports and the 302 medal events. The other app, "NBC Olympics," is more of a second-screen companion. It will feature recaps, live results, athlete biographies, online listings and -- during prime time -- enhanced viewing and social interaction features.

Adobe developed both apps, which are free and work on Apple's iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad. Select Android handset and tablet devices accessing Google Play can also stream comprehensive coverage.

"The 'NBC Olympics' app will be the definitive and most up-to-date source of information from the London Games, and the exclusive mobile source in the U.S. for London Olympic video highlights," said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics.

Cable subscribers who don't have CNBC or MSNBC on their video tier won't be able to access all content. During prime-time hours, a "Facebook talk meter" will serve to remind second-screeners of the dialog available online, and Twitter will also be incorporated into the broadcasts.

For anyone who ever screamed at their television set as they waited for the much-delayed, prime-time gold-medal broadcast of ladies gymnastics in Athens, or the network's lack of coverage for small-ticket sports such as synchronized diving, NBC's decision to embrace the digital side could be a dream come true.

"Could" being the operative word. For months, Comcast -- which owns 51 percent of NBC -- has had all sorts of Olympics-related video available through its Xfinity "On Demand" services.

"Every minute. Every medal. Every screen" is the provider's motto.

Bite-sized highlights culled from many hours of NBC's recent coverage of Olympic trials in track and field, gymnastics and other sports can be found through local cable providers television on-demand.

For example, a rousing 4-minute clip of American Ashton Eaton breaking the world record in the decathlon is among current offerings.

It's also online and available across multiple mobile platforms. To access it, however, viewers must be cable subscribers and authenticate their devices by logging in.

For those who don't have cable and want to view the streaming content, and the NBC Live Extra app will offer a one-time NBCUniversal "Temp Pass." It will allow instant viewing of one four-hour block.

The network also has partnered with Facebook to make some live streaming accessible in the U.S.

NBC isn't the only network to offer an Olympic-sized slate of viewing options. CTV Television Network will be live streaming in Canada at

Live coverage in many countries will be limited -- thanks to technology that tracks location. The NBC Sports apps and Facebook live streaming won't be viewable in, say, Brazil.

The venerable BBC is going full-tilt in its coverage and has an app similar to NBC's available to the American market. It features schedules, bios, recaps and links to social media. Also, the "Beeb" will be streaming live video through Facebook in an arrangement similar to the one struck with NBC.

Verizon's FiOS offers similar on demand viewing options; both will also have dedicated channels for basketball and soccer, as well as 3-D.

Many television viewers still can recall the early days of ABC Olympics coverage. Then, it seemed as if every gold-medal performance was preceded by an "Up Close and Personal" feature.

Those stories of African runners conquering mountainous trails or Australian swimmers heading to the pool at 5 a.m. are still a big draw, but now they've gotten extremely up close and personal. NBC, the BBC and CTV all offer some version of athlete spotlights, such as the current NBC offering, "BMX Riders Talk Broken Bodies."

It's exactly as promised: U.S. riders discuss a variety of injuries all must overcome to reach the London games. Corben Sharrah holds up his smartphone to show an X-ray of the broken femur he suffered less than two years ago.

The bone is in two distinct pieces. Now, that's something they never showed on "Up Close and Personal."

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Maria Sciullo: or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.


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