Picture adjusted by NBC

Television: The network supplements its prime-time storytelling with long-form event coverage on MSNBC and CNBC.

Summer Olympics Preview

September 13, 2000|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

So, you say you want no part of the "hearts and flowers" Olympics coverage that NBC is going to air in prime time from Sydney? NBC's got the kind of Olympics you want, but you'll have to pay for it.

Beginning with a men's soccer match between the United States and the Czech Republic today, 279 hours, nearly two-thirds of NBC's planned 441 1/2 Olympic telecast hours, will air on its two cable outlets, CNBC and MSNBC.

And the cable coverage, of individual and team competitions, will more closely resemble what most American sports viewers are used to seeing, as opposed to the stylized and packaged show they'll get in the evening on the broadcast side.

"This is where we get an opportunity to show everything in long form. I think the viewers will love it," said Molly Solomon, coordinating producer of NBC's cable coverage. "It [the cable viewership] has to be the people who would go online for results, people who are big fans of particular sports. You'll also get people who are caught up in the moment. It will be great."

The cable channels will carry 11 hours of original programming each weekday and 10 hours on the weekends, with a concentration of team competitions, such as baseball, softball and soccer, on MSNBC, and individual events, such as weightlifting and tennis, on CNBC.

The cable coverage will be populated by familiar faces, such as Jim Lampley, the former ABC Olympic reporter and anchor, who will shepherd MSNBC's telecasts, and CNBC anchor Pat O'Brien, who formerly was host of CBS' nighttime Winter Games coverage.

Boxing, which has largely been missing from NBC's Olympic coverage dating to 1992 because of its lack of appeal to female viewers, will be a staple of CNBC's schedule, occupying the first two hours of each day, with veteran announcer Marv Albert calling the bouts.

Like the broadcast package, all the cable coverage will be taped, but there will be less turnaround time between the competitions in Sydney and their airing here, Solomon said.

This isn't the first time that cable has been used to air Olympic telecasts. CBS sold off portions of its 1994 and 1998 Winter Olympics coverage to TNT, and NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol's 1992 pay-per-view "TripleCast" was the laughingstock of the sports television industry. But the use of cable for this year's Olympics is a recognition of the changing nature of television.

When NBC got into the Summer Olympics telecasting business in 1980, the network planned 150 hours of coverage from Moscow at a cost of $87 million and cable television was in its infancy.

Twenty years later, facing a record $800 million outlay in rights fees and production costs for the Sydney Games, Ebersol came up with a plan to turn a profit and head off critics who bludgeoned the network for missing a number of stories in Atlanta.

Events that don't fit into the prime-time storytelling model but appeal to sports viewers have been placed on CNBC, a business channel seen in 75 million homes, and MSNBC, an all-news channel jointly owned by Microsoft and available in 62 million homes.

In the process, the network avoids the charge that viewers aren't getting enough of the Olympics and it gets to tap into the dual revenue streams that cable offers, through advertising and subscriber charges.

Indeed, NBC is using the higher profile that the Games will bring to CNBC and MSNBC to raise the subscriber rates it charges. It's also attempting to get cable operators to commit to carry new NBC channels.

Earlier this month, the network reached agreement with Comcast, the Baltimore area's largest cable supplier, to carry Olympic programming on CNBC and MSNBC.

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