NBC to share coverage with network for 10 days

NBC’s pulled a surprise in its first scheduling announcement for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing: Oxygen will get two hours of gymnastics and other sports each weeknight at 6 for 10 days.

“This is a big deal for us,” said Lauren Zalaznick, president of Oxygen and Bravo. “I can’t think of a better way for Oxygen to be welcomed into the NBC Universal family than with the Olympics.”

NBC U bought Oxygen late last year.

Stacey Shepatin, a top media buyer with Hill, Holliday in Boston, said that Oxygen’s two weeks of marquee programming are “the kind of high-visibility event that the network could use as leverage” to get cable operators and satellite distributors to pay more money in license fees when the contracts come up for renewal.

The fees Oxygen manages to extract from cable and satellite are among the lowest of all cable networks — a hangover from the days when it was a standalone with no clout in the marketplace.

The Olympics sales force at NBC Sports will sell the advertising time on Oxygen, and Zalaznick said these Madison Avenue deals will be a no-brainer because “we’re in a really hot market for the Olympics right now.”

Oxygen’s coverage for the 10 days between Aug. 11 and 22 will consist mainly of analysis and athlete interviews focusing on gymnastics, women’s tennis, synchronized swimming and equestrian competitions. Zalaznick said these Olympic sports tend to appeal to women, which are Oxygen’s target. “We’ll cover the emotion and drama of stories as they’re happening,” she said.

The 20 hours on Oxygen will be a relatively small part of the 3,600 hours of total coverage by NBC and its cable siblings USA, MSNBC, CNBC, USA HD, Universal HD and, in Spanish, Telemundo.

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