Indianapolis Station Adds Local Flavor to Olympic Coverage

By Kevin Eck 

You might think local NBC affiliates are content with taking what the network gives them during the 17 days of Olympic games coverage. But for the last 20 years, Indianapolis NBC affiliate WTHR has been adding its own unique local voice to coverage of the international spectacle.

This year, the Dispatch-owned station sent six staffers and two local pro basketball players to Rio. The station tells TVSpy it sees a “considerable return” on the money it spends through ad sales and local sponsorships.

“There are several reasons behind this,” said WTHR president and GM Larry Delia. “But most of all it’s because of our viewers, Hoosiers’ love of sport and country are unquestioned, and this year there are 17 Indiana athletes competing at the Summer Olympics in Rio.”

The station’s extended Olympic coverage started in 1996 when it sent 17 staffers to cover the games in Atlanta. This year’s team in Rio includes anchor Anne Marie Tiernon (pictured with former Olympian Greg Louganis), sports director Dave Calabro. columnist Bob Kravitz is also in Rio focusing on the station’s digital presence while helping out on the broadcast side. Rounding out the team is an ep and two photographers sending back daily taped and live reports.

“It’s no secret the Indianapolis news market is extremely competitive with five stations vying for news ratings every day,” said Delia. “Covering such a locally relevant event as the Olympics is a huge effort, and most choose not to do it, but WTHR’s success has proven it is worth it.”

The station says during the 2012 games in London, it ranked seventh in average ratings for the Olympics among NBC affiliates nationwide with a 20.9 rating and a 36 share. The top spot for London went to Salt Lake City NBC affiliate KSL. For Rio’s opening ceremony, WTHR ranked third nationally among NBC affiliates in metered markets in prime time.

In addition to the team it sends to the games, reporter Scott Swan and photographer Steve Rhodes hit the road a year in advance to find human interest stories in the host country for the local audience.

“Steve and I spend months doing research online,” said Swan who traveled to Rio last year to give local viewers a look at Brazil’s culture, scenic views and preparations for the games. “And, in some cases, like Brazil, we hire a tour company to book excursions and provide English-speaking guides. We knew we wanted to spend a few days in Rio and then move out to other cities that other stations may not visit.”

Below is a story the two did before the 2014 Sochi games. “We traveled to the Russian village where they make the most popular souvenir,” said Swan.

TVSpy reported Indiana Pacers star Paul George and four-time Olympian and WNBA player Tamika Catchings were part of its team. This is not accurate. We apologize for the error.