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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | TV-RADIO

Ebersol Offers Final Defense of Coverage

September 15, 2000|LARRY STEWART

Beginning with tonight's coverage of the day-old opening ceremony, you won't hear anyone on NBC saying, "Live from Sydney, it's . . . "

NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, on one last conference call with reporters Wednesday morning--it was 2 a.m. Thursday in Sydney--got a little testy when questioned one more time about NBC's delayed Olympics.

When asked about the CBC's live coverage, he said, "They paid $20 million for the rights, we paid $705 million. Maybe they can afford to put the Olympics on live in the middle of the night when no one is watching.

"They may get 500,000 people watching at midnight. If we did that, we'd all be fired."

Asked why at least some of the programming on MSNBC and CNBC couldn't be live, Ebersol said, "The minute you put something on the air, the clock starts ticking on one's exclusivity and our ability to control it and keep it from airing somewhere else is severely diminished."

The good news about the involvement of the two cable networks is that there will be more coverage of such sports as boxing (on CNBC) and soccer, baseball, softball, beach volleyball, basketball and water polo (on MSNBC) than there was in Atlanta four years ago.

Some major cable operators threatened not to carry the Olympic coverage because NBC sought a 12% increase and a promise to carry CNBC2 and ValueVision, a home-shopping network owned by NBC. But agreements were reached--as late as Aug. 31 with Comcast--and 97% of the homes that get CNBC and MSNBC will get the Olympics. Coverage is available in 76 million homes on CNBC and 65 million on MSNBC.

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As for the coverage on NBC, Ebersol said, "It tends to be about the major sports of the Games--swimming and diving, track and field, gymnastics, volleyball and some basketball.

"There's a fundamental reason why we do it this way. The Olympics bring families together for a shared viewing experience. That's a rare occurrence these days. Usually, Dad is in one room watching a sporting event, Mom is watching a dramatic show like 'ER,' and the kids are off watching MTV or spending time on the Internet."

It would help viewers if NBC were to lay out its schedule of events each night. Asked about that aspect, Ebersol was vague.

"It will be a mixture each night," he said.

He did say NBCOlympics.com would offer schedules nightly.

But NBC is vague about scheduling because its main goal is to hold an audience, and teases and vagueness about what is coming when tend to hold an audience, even a frustrated audience.

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Katie Couric is joining Bob Costas to help call the opening ceremony, which will be shown tonight at 8, after a half-hour preview.

Ebersol, before doing the conference call, had just come from a dress rehearsal of the opening ceremony. He said those in his group had to sign a confidentiality release before being permitted to watch the rehearsal.

What we do know is that the half-hour preview show will include a 10-minute segment on the Olympic bidding scandal and the opening ceremony coverage will begin with a 6 1/2-minute piece voiced over by James Earl Jones. The opening celebrates the first trans-Pacific flight from the United States to Sydney and the first commercial nonstop flight from San Francisco to Sydney in 1965.

NBC is hoping to get off to a flying start.

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