NBC gold in Olympic race

NBC, which lost more than $ 100 million on the 1992 Barcelona Olympics with its experimental “triplecast,” has caught Olympic fever again — paying a record $ 456 million for rights to air the 1996 Summer Games from Atlanta.

The winning bid — resulting in the Peacock network’s third consecutive Summer Games broadcast — was less than the $ 500 million-plus asking price of the Intl. Olympic Committee but still surpassed the $ 401 million NBC shelled out for the ’92 Games.

“We anticipate making money,” NBC Sports prez Dick Ebersol said at a New York press conference, while his boss, network president Bob Wright, called the undertaking “the most important sporting event that will take place in this country in probably 20 years.”

Because the Summer Games will be staged in Atlanta it will allow for live primetime coverage of most major events, unlike the delays frequently made necessary by recent broadcasts from Europe or Asia. NBC plans to air 168 hours of coverage, up slightly from the 161 hours it carried from Barcelona, Spain.

Both ABC and CBS also made presentations for the Olympic rights at Tuesday’s daylong bidding session. CBS carried the ’92 Winter Olympics and will air next year’s Winter Games from Lillehammer, Norway.

NBC’s original bid ultimately held up, with ABC and CBS offering $ 440 million and $ 405 million, respectively, during the first round of talks, before improving those offers by $ 10 million during the afternoon, according to the Associated Press.

“As we reviewed the bids submitted to us, it became clear to us that the market is a little bit more complex than it was in the past,” IOC vice president and TV negotiator Dick Pound said. “In the final analysis, it became clear to us that the superior bid was submitted by NBC.”

ABC was initially given the inside track at landing the Games because of its ownership of cable network ESPN as well as ESPN2, a spin-off service that launches in October. The network was seen as being able to put together a comprehensive package using a dual network-cable bid.

ABC Sports prez Dennis Swanson also has been outspoken, however, regarding the network not taking major financial losses on sporting events — particularly the Olympics, which air for just two weeks during the summer, unlike an ongoing franchise like “Monday Night Football.”

Several affiliates urged ABC to bid aggressively for the ’96 Games at their annual meeting in June, but network officials said then they didn’t plan to lose money on the enterprise.

Swanson also sought to diminish long-term benefits of the Olympics, pointing out that NBC broadcast last summer’s Games before sliding into third place in primetime — with no apparent boost from the promotional platform the competition provided.

An ABC Sports spokesman said late Tuesday the network was “very interested” in the rights and “thought we had a very competitive bid. We’re sorry it didn’t work out, but it’s not the end of the world.”

ABC, which was strongly identified with the Olympics thanks to its coverage of the Games through the ’70s and early ’80s, paid $ 225 million for the 1984 Summer Games. NBC then paid $ 300 million for the 1988 Seoul Olympics and $ 401 million for the ’92 Barcelona Games.

The Alphabet network hasn’t aired an Olympics since the ’88 Winter Games, on which the web lost $ 65 million.

NBC has yet to decide whether it will bring in a cable partner for the Games, which it opted not to do in Barcelona. “They said, ‘We have not made a deal. We are prepared to make a deal under the right circumstances,’ ” Pound said. “We clearly hope there will be one.”

The IOC made its announcement last night in New York after meeting with the Big Three networks in the morning and then in the afternoon. The committee indicated going into the process it would make a decision Tuesday unless the bids came in below expectations. All three webs were still in the running when the meetings resumed at 4 p.m. ET.

Early this year organizers for the Atlanta Games projected as much as $ 600 million for domestic TV rights, while network officials — mindful of the financial bath NBC took in Barcelona — predicted no more than $ 400 million.

Ratings have declined for the Summer Games since theirstellar performance in Los Angeles nine years ago, when the U.S.-dominated spectacle averaged a 23.2 rating. Those figures dropped to an average 17.9 rating in Seoul (where NBC also lost money) and 17.5 last year in Barcelona.

Still, third-place NBC has turned to big events seeking to jolt some life into the network, also outbidding ABC and CBS for rights to next year’s Super Bowl — the second consecutive year NBC will air TV’s top-rated annual event.

CBS performed extremely well with last year’s event from Albertville, averaging a strong 19.1 primetime rating. The web was successfully able to capitalize on the delayed element to build stories around its coverage.

The Eye network will also use a similar approach in airing next year’s Games in Lillehammer, for which it skated out a $ 300 million rights fee, up 23% from its ’92 fee.

The European Broadcasting Union already has been awarded European rights to the Atlanta Games with a record $ 250 million bid, nearly three times what the EBU paid for the Barcelona Olympics.

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