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CBS notches ’98 Winter Games

CBS has obtained rights for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, the network will announce today. CBS wasn’t talking, but according to industry sources the Eye web will pay the Olympic Committee $ 375 million for the rights.

The money CBS will dole out for the ’98 games represents more than a 25% increase over the $ 295 million the network paid for February’s Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway. But after watching Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Broadcasting network steal its National Football Conference package away last month, CBS wasn’t about to let it happen with this franchise; the ’98 Games will be the network’s third consecutive Winter Olympics.

According to one industry source, CBS made a preemptive strike after it became clear that Murdoch had interests in going after the Winter Games in Nagano. Eye web honchos let it be known to the Olympic Committee that the network was willing to pay a healthy increase.

Incumbency also helped CBS, which had impressed the Olympic Committee with its plans for this year’s games and its promotion and production of the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France.

Winter of discontent

At least one source indicated that, as a result, Fox wasn’t invited to bid on the Games, but according to a Fox source, after doling out $ 1.58 billion for its NFC package and scouting the Nagano site, Murdoch decided doing Olympic business in Japan was too rich for his blood.

CBS will probably try to get its affiliates to shoulder some of the cost of the Winter Games. According to industry sources, the network is also scouting for a cable partner to take part of the package. For each of its last two Winter Olympics packages, CBS cut a deal with Turner Broadcasting, which paid an estimated $ 25 million each time around.

The ’92 Winter Olympics averaged a 19.0 rating, 31 share in Nielsen over 16 nights. Unlike the Summer Games, the winter event falls during the regular TV season and, more important, during the February ratings sweeps — virtually assuring a big lead-in to affiliates’ local newscasts.

Although the networks have talked tough about lowering or holding firm on sports rights fees, several major franchises have received significant raises. The combined deals for football — including rights bought by Fox, NBC, ABC and cable webs — add up to a 20%-plus boost over a year ago for the gridiron sport. NBC also agreed to pay 14% more than its previous ’92 pact for the upcoming ’96 Summer Games in Atlanta, shelling out $ 456 million to the IOC.

CBS chairman Laurence Tisch plans to announce the Winter Olympic deal today at a press conference at the Museum of Television & Radio in New York.

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