NEW YORK — CBS has signed a deal that will give TNT the exclusive U.S.-cable rights to the 1998 Winter Olympic Games from Nagano, Japan.In a conference call with reporters, Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports, said TNT will carry 50 hours of Olympic events, mostly on weekdays during two February weeks of 1998, with CBS providing about 120 hours in primetime, latenight and mornings, and all day on weekends. The agreement was not a surprise because TNT bought the cable rights from CBS for the Winter Olympic Games in 1992 and 1994. As previously reported, CBS paid $243 million for the U.S. rights in ’92 and $295 million for ’94; it will pay $375 million for the ’98 Games. Although McManus and Harvey Schiller, president of Turner Sports, declined to discuss dollar figures for cable, other sources said TNT will pay about $7 million in license fees, compared to the $20 million it ponied up in ’92 and the $30 million it shelled out in ’94. But in those years, TNT shared in the advertising revenue. One source said CBS will not only sell all of the time to the ’98 Winter Games, including the spots on TNT, but keep all of the advertising revenue. “We didn’t want to end up with two separate people selling Olympics spots,” McManus said, “because smart advertisers would play one off against the other,” a strategy that could’ve driven prices down significantly. Another source said CBS will also gain because it will share its production facilities in Japan with TNT to avoid the duplication that occurred in ’92 and ’94 when the two networks deployed separate staffs. The benefit to TNT, sources said, is that the Games provide a potentially big ratings winner to cable operators who are constantly complaining about the monthly subscriber fees they pay TNT, which are higher than those of any other nationally distributed cable network in the industry except for ESPN. Even though TNT is turning over its Olympics advertising revenues to CBS, cable operators will get two minutes in each hour for local sale. And there’ll be allotted time during the breaks for TNT to promote programming on its own network and on such sister networks as TBS, CNN, Cartoon and the new CNN/SI. Although TNT has agreed to promote the CBS telecasts of the Games, McManus said CBS won’t return the favor because its owned and affiliated TV stations would’ve kicked up too much of a fuss.
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