HBO will televise Barack Obama's inaugural kickoff ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18, billed as a star studded affair with top music and entertainment.

Obama's Presidential Inaugural Committee said that the event will be free and open to the public, but HBO will get the exclusive rights to show it. The cabler will show the celebration on an open signal, meaning that it will work with all of its distributors to allow all of those with cable or satellite to watch the ceremonies for free.

Back in 1993, at the first inauguration of Bill Clinton, HBO paid a reported $1.5 million for the exclusive rights to televise a similar kickoff event at the Lincoln Memorial, with Jack Nicholson delivering historical readings, and entertainment from Tony Bennett, Diana Ross and Smokey Robinson. But there was some controversy because the ceremony was then available only to HBO subscribers. CNN and C-SPAN did show portions of the event but not the entertainment.

A spokesman for Obama's inaugural committee did not immediately say if or how much HBO paid for the rights.

No entertainment was announced for the fete, although sources have indicated that Barbra Streisand, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce and Stevie Wonder have been approached about performing some time during the four days of events planned for Obama's inaugural.

In a statement, HBO chairman and CEO Bill Nelson said, "We are honored to be broadcasting an event of this national significance featuring some of the leading talent from the  music and entertainment industry. HBO is proud to work with all of our distributors to make this event accessible to as many citizens as possible."

There could, however, be some grousing over the decision to award the rights to a cable outlet, as opposed to a broadcaster, as the Obama team has touted the inaugural's openness and accessiblity. A spokesman for the inaugural committee said that they are exploring other ways of making the ceremony accessible.

The inaugural committee has been raising money from individual donors to pay for events, but has said that it won't take contributions from lobbyists or corporations, as has been done in the past.

For his first inaugural in 2001, President Bush also hosted a kickoff ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial, with Ricky Martin (singing "The Cup of Life"), Van Morrison and the Rockettes among those performing, and Larry King as emcee. George Schlatter produced.

No producer has been announced for Obama's event.

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