Katie Couric returning for Winter Olympics opening ceremony

David Bauder
The Associated Press

NEW YORK – NBC is bringing back Katie Couric to co-host the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics next month in South Korea, and will live-stream the pomp for the first time.

Couric will work with Mike Tirico, who is replacing Bob Costas as prime-time host of the games, for the Feb. 9 ceremony.

The torch-lighting and parade of nations that begins every Olympics took on greater resonance Wednesday with the announcement that the rival Koreas will form their first unified Olympic team and march together in the ceremony.

“It’s going to be really emotional for the athletes, for the crowd and for everybody sitting at home,” said Jim Bell, executive producer of the Olympics for NBC.

The decision to live-stream the ceremony starting at 6 a.m. ET in the United States takes some critical heat off NBC. Some fans thought it odd that during the 2016 summer games in Brazil, NBC allowed every competition to be shown live online but not the opening ceremony. The live-stream will be available for free to cable subscribers.

The prime-time broadcast NBC will show on television will likely be edited for brevity.

Similarly, NBC will show its nightly Olympic prime-time broadcast that begins at 8 p.m. on the East Coast live across the country; given the time difference, there will be a lot of events taking place live during that time, daylight the next day in Korea. That means the West Coast “prime-time” broadcast will begin at 5 p.m.

The moves are a further recognition by NBC of the difficulty in showing tape-delayed events at a time the audience accustomed to seeing things when they want to.

Hoda Kotb would have been a natural pick to host the opening ceremony, but Bell said he didn’t want to burden her when she just got the new lead job at “Today.” So, instead, he called Couric, the former “Today” host who handled Olympic ceremonies in 2000, 2002, 2004 with Costas.

She joked at a news conference Wednesday that she and Tirico “go way back, to 45 minutes ago.”

NBC also said that it had hired Joshua Cooper Ramo, a co-chief executive of the Kissinger Associates consulting firm and an Asian expert, to provide analysis during the games.

The thaw in relations between North and South Korea — however temporary — adds an intriguing element to an Olympics that has had little advance buzz. NBC’s most promotable American stars going in are Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White, two veteran athletes hoping for a last hurrah in Pyeongchang.

It means NBC is braced for a dip in its prime-time ratings, something that might be expected anyway because live television viewership in general is down from four years ago.

“I hope not,” said NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus. “But I just think media gravity takes us that way.”

Instead, NBC is intent on convincing its advertisers that even if prime-time television viewing is off, that more people will consume Olympics content on cable, online and through venues like Snapchat, he said.