The easiest way to appraise NBC's bold acquisition of the U.S. television rights to the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, in 2000, and the Winter Games in Salt Lake City two years later is to view it as a protective move.
In the short term, that's a pretty good assessment. The Peacock network has denied the second most valuable piece of sports programming -- after the NFL -- to the other networks into the next century.
NBC president Robert C. Wright and sports chief Dick Ebersol denied the other day that Disney's acquisition last week of Capital Cities/ABC was the driving force behind its quick gambit. But you can't help thinking that NBC was firing a warning shot across the bow of the new Disney-ABC behemoth, even as the two sides were reportedly talking about a joint Olympics bid.
But NBC was just as certainly responding to market pressures to beef up its holdings -- namely its two cable channels, CNBC, a financial and talk outlet, and America's Talking, a new talk channel -- as the universe of cable choices continues to expand.
John Mansell, a media analyst for Paul Kagen Associates, said NBC may have felt pressured to do something to bolster the stature of CNBC, which is seen in 54.9 million homes but is not as big a performer as some might expect. He cited rumors that Turner Broadcasting is considering launching a financial channel well as ITT's recent purchase of a New York public broadcasting station, which it intends to turn into a financial/sports channel.
Likewise, America's Talking, a year-old network that has barely registered a blip on most radar screens, will benefit from the Olympic exposure. Mansell said NBC will be able to pressure reluctant cable systems to add the two channels and even charge higher subscriber fees for them.
NBC will need every little penny it can get. Industry sources speculate that the company, which will pay the International Olympic Committee $1.25 billion for the rights to the two Games, needs to generate at least $1.7 billion in sales to make the deal work.
Gee, for that kind of dough, Ebersol might want to consider setting up a lemonade stand in front of Rockefeller Center or hiring out Marv Albert to mow your lawn.
Looking like refugees
With the demise of ESPN2's "SportsNight," some of its participants are turning up on ESPN's "SportsCenter," and they might look a little unfamiliar to you.
Bill Pidto, who has been doing the "SportSmash" on the Deuce and the host of the hockey show, has done a couple of "SportsCenter" turns, mostly on the overnight shift, while Suzy Kolber, who anchored "SportsNight," has been doing a couple of the early evening "SportsCenter" shows.
The best of the ESPN2 guys is the way-too-hip-for-this-planet Kenny Mayne, who has been nothing short of perfect on the overnight show.
His home run calls, seemingly lifted right from the script of the cult-cable classic "Mystery Science Theater 3000," are usually side-splitting, and his off-the-cuff retort that Oakland's Danny Tartabull had bad ribs but "good slaw," was a riot.
If network officials were smart, they'd rethink their plan to put Mayne on their planned racing show, which starts next month, and team him with Craig Kilborn on the late show, where their act meshes perfectly with the sensibilities of the folks who are on the night watch.
Wood on the call
It might be a stretch for a good part of the region, but if your radio can get WMJS (92.7 FM) out of Prince Frederick, it would be worth it tonight to check out Phil Wood's play-by-play of the Bowie Baysox game with Canton, as the usual radio announcer, Dave Collins, does the television call.