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Television Week

NBC networks Olympics to Internet, cable
For decades, the U.S. TV formula for the Olympics was about as unchanging as the shot put competition.

But NBC, at next year's Beijing Summer Games, will take that old formula, largely created by TV pioneer Roone Arledge in the 1960s, and use the Internet to super-size it beyond all 20th-century TV coverage —combined.

NBC executives — gathered in Beijing Tuesday — announced plans that include 2,200 hours of free live Internet video coverage on nbcolympics.com, a site being launched Wednesday that — unlike temporary NBC sites for past games — will stay online permanently.

Yikes. Americans have never had any access to live online Olympic coverage. In the 1990s, it was assumed it would never arrive largely because putting Olympic action online meant it became available globally.

That would play havoc with the enormous revenues Olympic organizers get — like the $894 million NBC will pay for Beijing — in TV rights sold to networks on a country-by-country basis. And before broadband service became widely available, watching live sports online seemed dumb.


Plus, NBC will also offer another 3,000 hours of online Beijing video highlights and replays — also free.

August is the least-productive month for the U.S. economy. Next August, with all that Olympic action at office workers' fingertips, expect Greenland to at least temporarily pass the U.S. in worker productivity.

On TV, NBC and its cable channels will also carry about 1,400 hours of coverage — up from about 1,200 from the 2004 Athens Summer Games.

It's up from NBC's 171 total TV hours from the Atlanta Summer Games in 1996. Conventional wisdom then was that Americans would never see Olympic action on cable because NBC's local affiliate stations, or any network's stations, would balk at their "exclusive" Olympic action also showing up on cable.

What happened? NBC's plan to create Olympic coverage on steroids is only the most dramatic example of sports programmers generally having finally learned from the adage about how Native Americans used all parts of the buffalo they hunted.

Rather than simply stripping off the prized fur in Beijing for primetime and letting everything else go to waste, NBC will use it online and on cable.

This will get complicated. With the 12-hour time difference between Beijing and the U.S. East Coast, NBC will be able to show some top draws — swimming, gymnastics and beach volleyball — in U.S. primetime.

But will NBC continue to hold other action for primetime when it could be shown online live?

And will NBC go online with simulcasts of its live daytime cable TV coverage?

And will NBC's online Olympic tonnage depend largely on the Olympic world feed — which captures every second of every event and is available to networks that bought Olympic TV rights — or will NBC create most of its own online coverage?

Such issues, said NBC spokesman Mike McCarley from Beijing Tuesday, aren't resolved. But, he says, NBC executives made progress by huddling in a Beijing hotel the past few days. Sure, they could have just taken cabs downtown from their Manhattan offices and brainstormed in Chinatown. But, he says, "it's amazing what you can get done if you fly around the world, lock yourself in a room and turn off your phones."

PGA preview

CBS' coverage of the PGA Championship will include handheld cameras for so-called "SwingVision" replays, which can show more than 1,000 frames per second compared to fewer than 100 in regular replays. Rather than the usual SwingVision replays of tee shots, says CBS director Steve Milton, the mobility will deliver such replays from anywhere.

Online, TNT-produced coverage on pga.com will offer 45 hours of live video action — up from 11 last year.