Formal negotiations for rights to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta will be held in July, following informal discussions that will start shortly to detail the process for potential bidders.

Richard Pound, chairman of the IOC’s television committee, said informal discussions will begin shortly so that the IOC could answer technical and other questions for companies considering making a bid. Site of the actual bidding is unclear, though the IOC is targeting the last week in July for the process.

Pound’s comments come a month after IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch said that the bidding process could be put off until the fall if it meant that the committee could garner a higher rights fee for the event.

The IOC is facing stiff pricing opposition from the U.S. broadcast networks. Each vows not to overspend.

Initially, Samaranch’s comments were viewed as posturing by some at the networks. A few believed Samaranch was sending a signal to IOC members that money would be coming.

Putting the bidding in July should assure the IOC exclusivity with the networks. No major contracts are expected to be in discussion then, which frees the networks to work with the IOC. Moreover, the IOC also escapes being compared with the big deal of the moment and becomes the big deal.

“The IOC has a strong preference for reaching an agreement with one of the traditional networks because we know them and have a long experience of dealing with them,” said Pound, chairman of the IOC’s television committee.

“We are fully aware that there have been many changes in the television industry in the United States and are certainly ready to consider new approaches which could lead to more television coverage of more Olympic events for wider American audiences,” Pound said.

The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games last year projected it would receive $ 549 million for its share of world television rights to the 1996 Games.

Samaranch said last month that the U.S. TV rights for the Atlanta Games will cost more than the $ 401 million NBC paid for 1992 Barcelona Games.

However, top executives and other industry observers have constantly played down the Atlanta Committee’s projections or those from Samaranch on Games pricing. Several have estimated the cost of the Games to be in the $ 350 million-to-$ 400 million range and vow not to overpay.

Nonetheless, each of the broadcast webs, some with cable partners, are expected to enter bidding.

ABC, which sat out the last two Olympic bidfests, is talking with Turner Broadcasting for a deal that could spread coverage over four networks.

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