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ATHENS 2004

NBC Offers a Super-Sized Package

Network plans an unprecedented 1,210 hours of coverage on seven outlets, but much will be delayed

August 08, 2004|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

For the 1992 Summer Olympics at Barcelona, NBC offered a $125 pay package called the Triplecast in addition to its regular coverage. It provided uninterrupted live coverage on three channels for 12 hours, and then those 12 hours were repeated.

Early during those Games, The Times called the Triplecast "triple terrific."

For the 2004 Summer Olympics at Athens, NBC is offering coverage on seven platforms -- NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, USA, Bravo, Spanish-language Telemundo and NBC HDTV -- totaling 1,210 hours.

For Olympic fanatics, it may be seventh heaven, but it remains to be seen if the coverage will be called terrific.

For one thing, all of the NBC coverage and much of the cable coverage will be delayed. Events advertised as live in the East on NBC and Bravo will be delayed three hours in the West. MSNBC, CNBC and USA will broadcast events live in the East and West.

Besides the TV schedule in this section, The Times will run a daily schedule during the Games. NBCOlympics.com is another good source, and the TV Guide Channel, through an arrangement with NBC, will provide a schedule on the lower portion of the television screen twice an hour. The Dish Network will offer a schedule on Ch. 100.

Figuring out what sport is on which channel at a particular time may be a challenge.

Over the 17 days of the Games, there will be an average of more than 70 hours a day.

If one were to watch the 1,210 hours consecutively, it would take 50 days and 10 hours. If one were to watch the coverage eight hours a day, five times a week, it would take more than 7 1/2 months.

The 1,210 hours exceed the total for "Cosby," "Cheers," "Frasier," "Friends," "Will & Grace," "Seinfeld," "Law & Order," and "ER." Those eight shows have aired 1,849 episodes, accounting for 1,199 hours.

"We recognize we've put a big challenge in front of ourselves to produce as much coverage out of Athens as the last five Summer Olympics combined," said Dick Ebersol, NBC Sports chairman. "Our 1,210 hours is more than was produced in total for each and every Olympics until the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, which delivered 76 1/2 hours.

"Our 1,210 hours nearly triples the 440-odd hours from Sydney on three networks and is seven times the 171 1/2 hours from Atlanta on just one network in 1996."

With all those hours, NBC doesn't figure to miss much.

"We have a commitment to provide some coverage of every one of the 28 Olympic sports," Ebersol said.

With so many hours, NBC will be able to provide more live coverage than it has in previous Olympics, despite a seven-hour time difference to the Eastern time zone.

As for the live coverage in the East being delayed three hours in the West, Ebersol doesn't believe that will adversely affect ratings.

"From Sydney, the Olympics were higher rated on the West Coast than they were anywhere else," he said, "and the time difference was the greatest [18 hours] to the Pacific time zone. And then of course in Salt Lake City, where the rest of the country was live and the West Coast was on delay, the West Coast was higher rated by almost 10%.

"People on the West Coast have a love affair with the Olympics. And they, more than people from any other region, want to see the Olympics when they're available to watch -- in prime time."

NBC President Randy Falco said the network has a responsibility to advertisers and affiliates to "aggregate the biggest audience that we can, and that means tape delay."

Also, he said, the network is obligated to put on the biggest events at a time when most people are available to watch them.

"And that's in prime time," he said.

Prime-time coverage on NBC will be four hours -- 8 p.m. to midnight -- rather than five hours, as it was from Sydney.

Ebersol said the four-hour telecasts will be "tighter, richer, more dramatic. And I think that will obviously accrue to our advantage."

Ebersol also said there will be fewer features, and for the most part they will be shorter than in past Olympics.

"This should pick up the pace of the prime-time telecasts," he said.

Here is a breakdown of the coverage by network:

NBC

The schedule is divided into three day parts: afternoon, prime time and late night -- for a total of 226 hours of coverage over 17 days beginning with the opening ceremony at 8 p.m. on Friday. NBC's prime-time coverage will include track and field, gymnastics, swimming and diving. Jim Lampley will serve as the afternoon host, Bob Costas the prime-time host and Pat O'Brien and Dan Hicks share the late-night role. O'Brien will be the host the first week, Hicks the second week.

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HDTV

NBC's separate high-definition coverage involves swimming, diving, gymnastics, track and field, medal rounds of basketball and the men's soccer final. The HDTV coverage, shown in eight-hour blocks repeated twice, will total 399 hours and is a different production from NBC's standard definition broadcast. NBC's HDTV coverage is available in 86% of the country but only in homes with HD capabilities.

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MSNBC

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