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This Is a Tape-Recording: NBC Ratings Are Down Under

September 20, 2000|LARRY STEWART

This doesn't come as any great shock, but NBC's Olympic ratings are 32% lower than they were four years ago.

The average rating for the Sydney Games was 14.3 through Monday night, compared to 21.8 for the Atlanta Games at the same juncture.

The current average is also below the projected rating of 17.5, and even below the 16.1 guaranteed to advertisers.

The ratings are the lowest for an Olympics since the 1984 Winter Games at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.

In Los Angeles, the average for the prime-time coverage on Channel 4 through Monday was 17.6 with a 30 share. The overall prime-time L.A. average from Atlanta was 26.1/47.

What could NBC have expected? Day-old Olympics are as stale as day-old news.

No matter how much effort NBC puts into its production, no matter how many times it shows an athlete crying on the medal stand, no matter how many tear-jerking profiles it does, the drama is missing.

If you know the result, what fun is that?

Viewers are frustrated by not getting the Olympics live, and there's not much they can do about it.

There is no pay-per-view Olympic Triplecast, as there was from Barcelona in 1992. Turns out, the Triplecast was triple terrific, but at $125 it was overpriced and, going in, viewers weren't quite sure what they would get.

What they got was live, straightforward coverage on three cable channels for 12 hours, and then those 12 hours were repeated.

You may have heard that the Canadian Broadcasting Co. (CBC) is providing live Olympic coverage from Sydney.

If you have an old, C-band satellite dish system or can find a bar that has one, you should be able to watch CBC. But unless you're Canadian or interested in Canadian athletes, you might be disappointed.

The CBC coverage doesn't compare to the Triplecast.

The CBC emphasis is on Canadian athletes, and there is much that is not covered.

The Station bar in Arcadia is one place offering CBC's coverage. One patron, Peter Dukes, a native of Canada who is working on his doctorate in mathematics at Caltech in Pasadena, said he got an e-mail from someone at Caltech informing him that the Station had CBC.

"I think it's great," Dukes said, adding that it reminded him of staying up all night to watch CBC's 1998 Winter Olympic coverage from Nagano, Japan, while he was an undergraduate at the University of Victoria.

He was at the Station three nights in a row. The night he missed, two of his friends from Caltech, Sever Achimesu and Claudiu Simion, both from Romania, were there. But they said they were disappointed.

"We came here to watch women's gymnastics and all we're getting is basketball [U.S. vs. Italy]," Achimesu said. "This is not what we expected."

They soon left.

Another problem is that at closing time, 2 a.m., it is 8 p.m. the next day in Sydney, and the competition is just beginning to heat up.

"Even though we couldn't serve alcohol, we might stay open if we had a big crowd that had spent a lot of money," Station bartender Terry McCullom said. "So far, that hasn't been the case."

NBC paid $705 million for the rights and CBC paid $32 million. NBC is spending $125 million on production and CBC is probably spending less than 5% of that.

However, the CBC coverage still looks pretty good. That's because CBC relies almost solely on the world feed provided by the Sydney Olympic Broadcasting Organization, which has 900 cameras and a staff of 3,500 at its disposal.

CBC does have its own up-close-and-personal profiles, only not nearly as many as NBC nor as artsy. One CBC profile was on softball player Jackie Lance, who told her story of how she overcame an abusive husband and a drug problem. "Softball saved my life," she said, and eventually the tears began to flow.

NBC would have loved it.

A big story Monday night for CBC was that a Canadian equestrian competitor, Eric Lamaze, had his ban lifted for cocaine use. CBC host Brian Williams, who is in Sydney, interviewed Lamaze, who was at his home in Schomberg, Canada, by phone. A phone interview is not something you'd see on NBC, but CBC blows away NBC with its live coverage.

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