Steven Luke in Beijing
Steven Luke at the Beijing airport

KNSD-TV NBC 7 San Diego anchor and reporter Steven Luke is in Beijing to cover the XXIV Olympic Winter Games. It is his seventh Olympic appearance for the station.

Since arriving in China on Jan 29, prior to the start of the Beijing Games on Feb. 2, Luke has been reporting live on NBC 7’s morning news program, airing from 4:30 a.m. to 7 a.m., along with the 11-11:30 p.m. newscasts. He also is posting updates on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the KNSD website.

Luke has been reporting on local Olympics connections and storylines since 2003, including trips to London (2012), Rio de Janeiro (2016) and Tokyo (2021), as well Winter Olympics in Torino in Italy (2006), Sochi in Russia (2014) and Pyeongchang in South Korea (2018). He’s been on the air with the station since August 2002.

“We knew the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing would be different, but they will likely stand alone as the most unique games I’ve ever covered due to all of the safety protocols in place,” Luke said to Times of San Diego in an email from Beijing. China’s zero-COVID policy means there will be no international fans in attendance.

“The rules for journalists are above and beyond what we experienced even six months ago in Tokyo with daily testing and a closed-loop system, which keeps foreign journalists separated from everyone else in the country,” said Luke. “In Tokyo, we were under a soft quarantine for the first 14 days. But, we will be under even stricter movement here in Beijing for the entirety of the Winter Olympics.”

In Beijing, athletes, media and workers will be cut off from the rest of China during the games. The only places they can go will include competition venues, their accommodations and transportation between the two. Also, visitors have been closely observed by Chinese escorts, according to news reports.

Luke’s Feb. 3 blog post said: “I’m trying to think of the best way to describe the process of getting interviews and shooting video here at the Winter Olympics and I keep picturing a track sprinter in thick, knee-deep mud. Virtually anything worth doing here requires extra permission to get extra access to places you’ve never been on bus routes you’ve never explored.”

He posted on Feb. 4: “The Beijing National Stadium, usually called `The Bird’s Nest,’ has been lit up and blaring music for days with rehearsals and security run-throughs. But, now, even accredited journalists like myself need a special pass to get anywhere near it. I’ve covered seven Olympics but never been to an opening ceremony.”

Luke’s email to Times of San Diego concluded: “That said, it is an incredible opportunity to document these historic games and be here and see for myself what it is like to cover the Olympics in China while still under the worldwide COVID pandemic. Our hotel accommodations are really good and the NBC team keeps us well fed with a private cafeteria inside the peacock complex within the international broadcast center.”

Luke is part of a team of NBCUniversal journalists from NBC owned-and-operated stations who are in Beijing to deliver reports for their local network affiliates. In contrast, nearly all of NBC’s sports announcers, both play-by-play and analysts covering various Olympic events, will be working 7,000 miles away, at the network’s Stamford, CT, headquarters. 

The reason cited by NBC for the announcers’ absences is (what else) the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Molly Solomon, NBC’s head of Olympics production, said in a statement, “Something significant has changed virtually every day for the last three months, forcing us to adjust our plan numerous times. With COVID’s changing conditions and China’s zero-tolerance policy, it just added a layer of complexity to all of this, so we need to make sure we can provide the same quality experience to the American viewers. That’s why we are spilt between the two cities.”

With Beijing 13 hours ahead of Connecticut, some announcers will be up at night calling the action. It’s unlikely any NBC announcer will mention Communist China’s human rights abuses, most notably the genocide against Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang in western China. Human rights groups across the world have concluded the ethnic minority Uyghurs are routinely tortured and forced into work camps.

It’s the second straight Games for some network broadcasters to work mostly out of NBC Sports headquarters in Connecticut, rather than the host city. Although, at last year’s Summer Games, the marquee sports of track and field, swimming and gymnastics had announcers in Tokyo.

By the time the Winter Games end Feb. 20, NBCUniversal said it will have aired more than 2,800 hours of coverage across NBC, Peacock, USA Network, CNBC, and the NBC Sports app. The NBC broadcast network is planning 200 hours spread over 18 nights of primetime coverage.

“Om addition to the extensive coverage on broadcast and cable television, every single moment of the Winter Games from Beijing will be available to viewers on Peacock’s premium tier for the first time, providing yet another avenue for viewers to consumer the Olympics,” said Pete Bevacqua, chairman, NBC Sports.

NBCUniversal is presenting its 18th Olympic Games, 12th consecutive overall, and sixth straight Winter Games, the most by any U.S. media company. NBC’s deal with the International Olympic Committee runs through 2032.

Cutwater Spirits Advertising on Super Bowl for the First Time

San Diego-based Cutwater Spirits, a Miramar-area craft distillery owned by beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch (AB), will be one of the national advertisers during this Sunday’s Super Bowl LVI on NBC.  It will be the first time for national TV commercial exposure during a Super Bowl telecast for Cutwater, AB’s spirits-based, ready-to-drink brand.

AB has allocated four minutes of Super Bowl advertising that will be spilt between six of its brands, including Bud Light Next, Bud Light Seltzer Hard Soda, Budweiser, Michelob Ultra, Michelob Ultra Seltzer and Cutwater Spirits.

A Cutwater spokesperson told Times of San Diego its Super Bowl TV commercial “will celebrate the everyday ingenuity of those who work smarter, not harder.” The spokesperson declined to elaborate about “smarter, not harder” until after a press release is scheduled for distribution Feb. 10.

During last year’s 2021 Super Bowl, Cutwater’s “Cut Out” TV commercial aired regionally during the game in western regional markets, including San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Seattle. The spokesperson said this year’s national Super Bowl TV spot will be different that last year’s regional “Cut Out” spot.

News reports have said a half-minute 2022 Super Bowl commercial is costing up to $6.5 million.

Cutwater was built by the founders of Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits, including co-founders Earl Kight and Yuseff Cherney as master distiller. Ballast Point was sold to New York’s Constellation Brands in 2015, Cutwater Spirits was established in 2017 and then AB acquired Cutwater as its first spirits brand in 2019.

Cutwater’s 20 ready-to-drink canned cocktails include Tequila Margarita, Bloody Mary, Mai Tai, Rum and Ginger, Gin and Tonic, Vodka Mule, Long Island Iced Tea and White Russian. New flavors include Tiki Rum Punch and Orange Vodka Smash.

Social Media Startup Koji Raises $20 Million

San Diego-based Koji, a creators’ app startup, said it has secured $20 million in Series B financing. The company will use the funding to grow its engineering team and platform, as well as develop its Web3 and crypto offerings.

The latest funding was led by Jump Capital with participation from new investors HBSE Ventures, Electric Feel Ventures, Visary Capital, Meatversal and University Growth Ventures. Existing investors, including media and technology individuals Shivakumar Rajaraman, Michael Eisner, Francis Ma and more than 30 others, also participated, the company said.

Dmitry Shapiro (left) and Sean Thielen

Since its March 2021 launch by co-founders Dmitry Shapiro and Sean Thielen, Koji has raised a total of $36 million.

“Koji is refactoring the creator economy into an ecosystem where incentives between creators, consumers and developers are truly aligned,” said Shapiro, CEO. “We believe that the creator economy will be the dominant way tomorrow’s artists and entrepreneurs make their livings and we are empowered to build a powerful, equitable foundation for it to flourish.”

“Koji’s developer ecosystem and platform runtime radically decrease the time and cost required to create new creator economy apps,” said Thielen, the chief architect. “These technologies, alongside our Web3 roadmap, give rise to a future where creators have true equity and governance in the tools and services on which they rely to make their livings, and developers and entrepreneurs have new paradigms for thinking about the next generation of creator economy apps.”

Koji creates apps that give posters on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and other social media websites new ways to interact with audiences and make money. The company said more than 150,000 creators have used Koji’s platform to open social media apps without requiring downloads or installs. Koji said these apps are not subject to app store taxes, letting creators and app developers keep more of their earnings.

GDX Studios Involved with the ‘Today’ Show Remote

San Diego-based GDX Studios, an experiential marketing firm, reports it was involved with logistics for a recent live remote segment at a mall in Santa Monica with weathercaster Al Roker on the “Today” show on NBC. GDX efforts were on behalf of NBC Sports.

The segment featured Roker promoting NBC’s telecasts of the Olympics and the 2022 Super Bowl, which will be played in Los Angeles. Several tons of snow, along with Olympics and Super Bowl graphics, were part of the live remote at the Santa Monica Place mall.

Founded in 2009 as Granddesign Experiential, GDX Studios was renamed in 2020.

Rick Griffin is a San Diego-based public relations and marketing consultant. His MarketInk column appears weekly on Mondays in Times of San Diego.