NBC ups Olympics’ daily dose

More than 70 hours a day skedded across five nets

NBC will air more hours of Olympic events this summer from Athens than the previous five summer games put together.

During the 17 days of Olympics coverage (Aug. 13-29), the Peacock’s coverage will average more than 70 hours a day across NBC and its five cable networks: USA, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo and Telemundo.

In addition, for the first time NBC will transmit to its 124 high-definition-equipped affiliated TV stations (reaching 86% of the U.S.) a separate 24-hour-a-day HD feed that will total 399 hours of discrete coverage of swimming, diving, gymnastics, track and field, basketball and men’s soccer.

In a telephone conference call with reporters, Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics, said that the Winter Games from Torino, Italy, in 2006, “will be entirely in HD, with the same coverage and the same announcers.”

NBC and its cable siblings will air 1,210 hours of Olympics coverage. Despite the seven-hour time difference between Athens and New York, at least 300 of those hours will air live.

For example, some of the live coverage will run in the morning on USA and consist of events like men’s and women’s basketball and tennis finals and women’s road races.

Although USA’s total coverage of 49 hours is far less than that of its cable siblings, NBC has dubbed USA “the cable home of the U.S. Olympic Team.”

NBC paid $793 million for the rights to the Games and will pony up another low-nine-figure amount to produce the 1,210 hours.

But Randy Falco, president of the NBC U TV Networks Group, said the network is on target to sell $1 billion in advertising time for the Games. “Right now, we’re just shy of 90% sold out,” Falco said.

And Ebersol said that NBC has already put in cost savings that will shave millions of dollars off the production cost of the Sydney Games four years ago.

Cable subscribers will be able to navigate through the huge volume of events across seven networks through the TV Guide Channel, which has a deal with NBC to create a dedicated interactive program guide featuring grids that spell out what each network is covering hour by hour.

Despite all of the cable participation, David Neal, executive VP of the NBC Olympics, made it clear that the highest-visibility programming — gymnastics, swimming, diving, track and field — will fill the primetime schedule of NBC, where these events will reach the widest possible audience in order to fetch the biggest Madison Avenue payday.

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