Paralympics Gets a Paris Spotlight as NBCUniversal, U.S. Committee Tap into Uplifting Stories and Inspiring Athleticism

NBCUniversal is envisioning a day when the Paralympics, the international multisport event for athletes with disabilities, achieve a level of prestige, recognizability and enthusiastic fandom on par with the Olympic Games that inspired them.

In preparations for next year’s Olympics telecasts, the media conglomerate on Nov. 16 revealed its high-tech content creation operations across a two-soundstage hub on the Universal Studios lot. The elaborate production infrastructure features a multitude of dynamic video and photographic platforms to showcase not only the elite United States athletes of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris across the company’s numerous platforms, but also to celebrate their Paralympian counterparts, who’ll compete in the City of Light just a few weeks later.

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“We have been on a pretty steep trajectory with Paralympics, I would say coming out of London and Rio [Olympics], with our sights set on L.A. [in 2028] as the opportunity to take the Paralympics to where it belongs, in terms of its position as one of the biggest, greatest sports events,” NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel tells Variety. “The more we can bring these two things together despite some of the distance and the actual spacing of the games, I think the better both events will ultimately come out.”

2024 PARIS OLYMPICS -- “The Universal Shoot: Team USA” -- Pictured: Tyler Downs (Diving) at the Universal Studios Backlot on November 16, 2023 -- (Photo by: Todd Williamson/NBC Sports)
Olympic diver Tyler Downs at work on NBCUniversal’s Olympic content production facilitity on the Universal backlot. (Photo: Todd Williamson/NBC Sports)

Zenkel says NBCUniversal has been working in concert with the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee to elevate the profile of the Paralympics through a symbiotic connection to the more widely viewed Olympics. “We’re talking a lot about what is that journey, what are the next four and a half years,” he says. “Obviously Paris being a critical moment, but then how do we march our way so that there’s an engagement, there’s an understanding, there’s an appreciation, inspiration and excitement around these great athletes, great humans.”

Molly Solomon, executive producer and president of NBC Olympics Production, noted that the second week of the network’s Olympics coverage will shine a spotlight on several shining stars among the Paralympians by sharing their inspiring and deeply moving personal stories while making sure to emphasize they’re also top-tier competitors in their chosen sports.

“The para-athletes say ‘Let’s also focus on the event itself. because I’m an athlete,” says Solomon. “We always want to both balance the background story, but also this is a heck of a sporting event.”

The company is also using the collaboration to identify opportunities to increase its workplace accessibility for its behind-the-scenes production personnel. “We think there’s something bigger than covering just sports, but making sure that we’re a better company for it, and we can really holistically cover this movement in a way that it should be covered,” says Solomon. “The Paralympic movement is pushing all of us to be better.”

Using cutting edge production techniques, such as ILM Stagecraft’s dynamic, massive virtual background screens (best known for their use creating otherworldly environs for “The Mandaorian” via The Volume) to showcase Olympians and Paralympians demonstrating their skills against Parisian backdrops including the Eifel Tower and the Seine helps create “the opportunity for a Paralympian to demonstrate their athleticism in some way through either emotion, through their sport or something else,” says Jenny Storms, NBC’s chief marketing officer for entertainment & sports. “That has to come through. The American public has to connect with that and understand, ‘Wow, that is amazing, what they’re able to do.’”

Similarly the athletes undergo more intimate, freewheeling shooting sessions on the lot’s Lifestyle Stage, “That is the time when the Paralympian is in their street clothes or in their Saturday going-out clothes and they’re telling their story, and so many times that story involves what happened with their lives, who inspired them, what is meaningful to them,” says Storms.

Such content, which will be deployed across many varied NBCU platforms prior to and during both the Olympics and Paralympics enables the network to dramatically bolster athletes’ social media profiles. “They’re not trained in social media – they’re athletes, they’re training 20 out of 24 hours a day,” says Storms. “They don’t know what to do, when to post, how do you do this? So we’ve decided to help them.”

Katie Bynum, chief strategy and growth officer for USOPC, says the organization sees a “two-pronged approach” taken with NBCUniversal to growing the profile of the Paralympics and raising appreciation for the athleticism on display.

“There’s kind of a two-pronged way to approach how we elevate the Paralympic games, and it’s giving them a platform on their own, but it’s also integrating them with the Olympians,” says Katie Bynum, chief strategy and growth officer for USOPC. “[The Paralympians] love the opportunity to tell their story and to normalize disability in any form and to showcase what they’re capable of doing through the Paralympic games, and we are so proud to tell their story.”

(Pictured top: Paralympian Jessica Long of Baltimore during the Team USA Road to Paris Bus Tour)

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