It's another broiling day in Athens. The Summer Games are under way, and next door to the Olympic Stadium, the gargantuan International Broadcast Center is humming with activity. Inside, the temperature is a frosty 65 degrees, as NBC crews keep cool sending images of Olympians Michael Phelps, Maurice Greene, Courtney Kupets and Rulon Gardner back to the USA.
Also inside the IBC, the workspace for NBC's Internet companion, NBCOlympics.com. It's a relatively small spot in the behemoth building, but they're doing big work here. When the Olympic flame is extinguished, it's estimated that the Web site will be visited at least 700 million times. That's a huge number, and a Minnesota company has a huge stake in the operation.
In the mid-90s, former WCCO TV news director Reid Johnson cofounded Internet Broadcasting Systems, now based in Mendota Heights. The IBS game is relatively simple. The company helps maintain local TV station Web sites across America. Over time, Johnson and his staff developed partnerships with various media ownership groups, including Hearst, Cox, Post-Newsweek and NBC. The relationship was so strong with NBC, the network handed over its Olympic Web site to the care of IBS for the 2004 Games, as well as the 2006 Winter Olympics Torino, Italy.
Naturally, Johnson is bursting with pride. He often calls the Olympic project "an incredible journey," which some will say is a huge understatement. IBS has grown steadily the past two years, and now the operation is the envy of the online sporting world. In short, it's a gold medal Minnesota success story.
"I'm so proud that a Minnesota company could be tapped by NBC for such an adventure," Johnson said. "I'm proud of the team we've put together. And I'm proud of the progress we've made that we would even be considered to compete at this level.
"As a journalist, the Twin Cities is a great media market to practice your craft. The two daily papers are widely respected, and the television stations are consistently recognized for being on the leading edge of broadcast journalism. It's that standard of excellence that has served as a foundation for IBS."
While Minnesotans supplied the engine for NBCOlympics.com, those driving the bus are a mixture of about 30 IBS staffers and freelancers brought in for the big job. They'll work a total of about 30 consecutive 12- to16-hour days, tirelessly cranking out everything you could want or ask for: game stories, multimedia presentations, audio clips and daily video highlights, which is a first for an Olympic Web site. Everything is geared to complimenting the NBC broadcasts.
While the Olympics are great fun to watch, this is August after all, and early in the month the Twins jumped out to that big lead in the A.L. Central. Being disconnected from Dick and Bert and Gordo and Herb's daily calls can be a bit disconcerting to the die-hard fan, which Johnson is.
So the dumbest question this reporter could think of: Which stat does Johnson covet most, Brad Radke's pitching line or Phelps'medal count?
The boss knocked that softball out of the park.
"I'm an absolute Minnesota sports fan," Johnson said. "Our family has held Timberwolves season tickets for years. Right now, in Athens, before I log on to our Olympic system, I watch the Twins highlights from overnight. That being said, there's nothing that compares to the Olympics. It's an entirely different experience and a different arena."
The bottom line: Minnesota kid Johnson does good. "Onward," he often writes in his inter-office memos. Onward indeed, to the Italian alps.