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Soaring in Sidney

September 17, 2000|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NBC describes its coverage of the 2000 Olympic Games from Sydney, Australia as the "Complete Olympics," boasting a record 441 1/2 hours of coverage, of which NBC will feature 162 1/2 hours of atheletes in competition, with the remaining 279 hours picked up by its cable siblings, MSNBC and CNBC.

The thrills and agonies began last week and continue through Oct. 1. Meanwhile, its Internet site, NBCOlympics.com is offering instantaneous results of the Games and offers 20,000 pages of content, with 27,000 pictures and 720 athlete biographies. However, NBC's efforts can't disguise the fact that America won't be watching the Games unfold live. All competition is on tape because of the 15-hour time difference between the East Coast and Sydney and an 18-hour time difference between the West Coast and Sydney.

Though the results of the events will be known hours before the telecast, NBC contends the time-delay won't hurt viewership.

"We have done extensive research really going all the way back to Korea in 1988, which was the last time the summer Olympics were held in a similar time zone," says David Neal, NBC's head of production. "What we have learned is that the American TV audience treats the Olympics differently than any other sports event. It is about [NBC] being a storyteller."

Most of those watching the Olympics, says Neal, want stories about the athletes and the host city intermixed with the competitions. "They want us to give them reasons to care about the athletes," Neal says. "If we put these sports on the air outside of the Olympics we are lucky to get a 2 rating. But if you put them on during the Olympics with that vital link of storytelling ... " When NBC broadcast the Summer Games in 1996, the number of prime-time viewers averaged 33.1 million, according to Nielsen Media Research.

About 1,500 NBC employees are in Sydney working on the coverage, and the network has hired another 500 people locally. "We have taken over two different hotels," says Neal, who made 21 trips to Sydney in preparation for the Games. "We are the largest contingent of media."

The Internet was a presence at the 1996 Olympics, but NBC wasn't as plugged into the Games as they are now, with NBCOlympics.com's coordinating producer, Tom Feuer estimating it will be "the largest production in the history of the Internet."

"We will have a complete staff at track and field, gymnastics and aquatics," says Feuer, adding that images will quickly land online.

At least once an hour during telecasts on NBC, CNBC and MSNBC, says Feuer, the screen will squeeze to make room for an Internet announcement. "You will have a ticker-looking device on the top [of the screen] that will say 'Log on now.' Then we will send you off a replay or a reaction shot that directly relates to what you have seen on the broadcast. Our goal is to extend and enhance the broadcast."

NBCOlympics.com, says Neal, is targeted for the sports fanatic, while the network is programming for viewers looking for a traditional telecast of such favorite competitions as swimming, diving, track and field and gymnastics. Meanwhile, CNBC and MSNBC's programming is aimed at the hard-core sports fan. "It is more longer-form programming," Neal says. "[Cable broadcasts are] the home of team sports. It's where you'll see the women's soccer team--you'll see their matches in their entirety."

Bob Costas is anchoring the prime-time and late-night NBC telecasts; Jim Lampley is hosting on MSNBC; and Pat O'Brien is handling the chores for CNBC. Hannah Storm has the daytime and weekend duties for NBC.

Storm, who is five months pregnant, anchored NBC's late-night Olympic coverage with Lampley in 1992 in Barcelona and in 1996 in Atlanta. Her husband, Dan Hicks, is announcing the swimming and diving events.

She hopes to make her telecasts accessible to "people who are moms and who are at home. Some people will have it on in their office, but I think a lot of the people I'll be talking to are people I have a lot in common with. So I think I'll be able to really relate to them and what they think is interesting."

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The 2000 Olympic Games air weekdays 10 a.m.-noon, 7 p.m.-midnight and 12:35 a.m.-2:05 a.m.; weekends from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; 7 p.m.-midnight; 12:30 a.m.-2 a.m. on NBC; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (replay midnight-7 a.m.) weekdays on MSNBC; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (replay midnight-6 a.m.) weekends on MSNBC; 5-9 p.m. weekdays and 4-9 p.m. weekends on CNBC.

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