CBS On 1992 Winter Olympics: Let The Ratings Games Begin…

With the 1992 Winter Olympics a year away, CBS already is setting conservative projections for the games, shooting for ratings in the 18-plus range during primetime.

The net is not guaranteeing viewer levels to advertisers on the Olympics, but its estimate is below the 19.3/30 ABC averaged with the Winter Games in 1988. CBS also has pitched a 10 rating on weekend days and a 5.5 in latenight, compared with a 10.8/28 and 7.6/21 in those dayparts for ABC during the ’88 games.

CBS will telecast its first Winter Olympics in 20 years from Albertville, France, next February, and according to those involved with the network’s production and advertising wings, the property is on schedule.

The network is in the somewhat enviable position of having rights to the 1992 and 1994 Winter Games, which the web acquired for a combined $543 million. Because of a schedule change the International Olympic Committee, this two-year span between the games, rather than the customary four, enables CBS to offer two-games packages to advertisers.

“Considering it’s a year away, we’re very comfortable with where we are,” said Jerry Dominus, CBS senior v.p. of entertainment marketing and sales.

To date the network has publicly discussed deals with Coca-Cola, Visa, Chrysler and Ford and has about 15 other major deals, according to Dominus. “Of the business we have in hand, a substantial level – 85% – of the money committed for 1992 also has been committed for 1994,” he said.

“We have pledged not to get into the box NBC got into,” said Dominus, referring to the 1988 Summer Games, for which NBC fell short on its ratings projections and was forced to offer make-goods during its telecasts. NBC was heavily criticized for the huge commercial load, which may have led to viewer declines.

On the production side, the network continues to test camera positioning and coverage strategy for the games’ various events. CBS has for the past couple of months telecast championship-caliber events from the Olympic venues and will continue to do so for the next several months.

As a lead-in to every Olympics, the federations involved hold test events at the new Olympic venues to ensure that those sites are acceptable. Those tests also provide CBS people and systems with the opportunity to gain experience.

“It’s a learning experience for us,” said Mark Harrington, v.p. of Olympics for CBS and the senior management exec in charge of coverage of the games. “We’re making sure the basic elements are in place.”

According to Harrington, most of the venues have been constructed, and work is being done on the International Broadcast Center, which will be the hub of the tv activity during the event.

The major problems CBS faces with the Albertville games are the distance between event sites and the potential for weather problems. Some of the sites are upward of 75 minutes from the IBC, which makes it virtually impossible to shuttle crews back and forth economically.

“There’s a six-hour time difference (between Albertville and the U.S.), and that’s going to mean very long shifts,” said Harrington.

In addition to planning for Albertville, CBS staffers are doing preliminary groundwork on the 1994 games in Lillehammer, Norway. This, says Harrington, makes the job difficult, although there are some benefits.

The potential to sell the two-game package combined with the ability to amortize the investment over two events made the idea attractive.

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