US Olympic broadcaster NBC has announced that coverage of the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, will start a day prior to the opening ceremonies.

In a first for a US broadcaster, NBC will air three newly minted events the Thursday night before the opening ceremony begins Friday, Feb. 7, 2014:  team figure skating, women’s freestyle moguls, and slopestyle snowboarding for both men and women.

Next year’s games will add 12 new events for Sochi, so the IOC needed to expand the length of the games from 17 to 18 days. This gave NBC the opportunity to also expand coverage. Thursdays are always a big night for TV viewership, so NBC was happy to get a head start. The Peacock network lost money on the 2010 Vancouver games, so extending its broadcasting net an additional day in Sochi gives it hope for additional advertising revenue.

“We think (it) is a great precursor to the opening ceremonies and has a large value to our distributors, our advertisers,” NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus said at a news conference Tuesday, Feb. 5, a year and one day before the Olympics launch. “And we think the appetite for the fans and the consumers and the viewers will be there.”

As they did for the London Summer Olympics, NBC will stream every event live online, making this the first Winter Games for which fans can enjoy that option. The network will also air more high profile events during the day, especially on the weekends, instead of holding them for tape delayed broadcasts in prime time.

NBC’s research so far suggests extremely strong interest in the Sochi Games. The network measures Americans’ “intent to view,” NBC Sports Group chief marketing officer John Miller said, and right now it’s hovering around 75 percent for next year’s Olympics, which is a 5 to 10 percent metric increase over both London and Vancouver.

The major factor in the increased interest level is that the overall US team looks strong again, headlined by superstars such as Shaun White and Lindsey Vonn. Although Vonn’s recent injury could prevent her participation, if she does recuperate in time, the story will be all the greater. The NHL could also bolster ratings for NBC by allowing its players to participate in the games. Such an action, which is currently being considered by both the NHL and its players union, would be a huge boost for the network.

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