Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Double the TV time, but it's all on tape

Results will be widely reported before telecasts

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's a daunting task, but Greg and Desiree Steffen of Green Township are going to try.

        The Steffen family wants to avoid hearing results of the Olympic Games from Australia before NBC's evening telecasts. That may be impossible because winners will be announced by 7 a.m. daily on TV, the Internet and radio.

        The 17-day Summer Games start today with the USA men's soccer team playing the Czech Republic (6:30-9 p.m., MSNBC). The opening ceremony airs on NBC Friday (7:30-midnight, Channels 5, 22).

        “In our family, we're going to try not to hear about it. Our daughter won't let the radio or the TV on,” Mr. Steffen says about his 14-year-old aspiring gymnast, Lauren.

        That may be difficult in this Information Age.

        Winners will be known at the start of each day, because of the 15-hour time difference between Cincinnati and Sydney. It will be 7 a.m. here when competition is wrapping up in Australia at 10 p.m.

        Although marquee events — gymnastics, swimming, diving, track and field — will be tape-delayed until 7 p.m.-midnight weekdays by NBC, winners will be publicized instantly by news services and NBC's Web site,

        That's fine with Karin Pidel, who recently moved from Germany to Loveland. She's on the Internet early each morning reading German newspapers, so she'll search for Olympics' results, too.

        “I'm going to watch all of the Olympics anyway,” she says. “Even if you know the results, you still want to see it.”

        Olympics fans who turn to the World Wide Web won't see competition video right away. NBC will embargo video until its prime-time show that night. (ESPN and other networks may not use the video until after it appears on NBC.)

        NBC's Today show also will reveal winners 15 hours before the network broadcasts the competition.

        “We will provide anything that is final that day,” says Jeff Zucker, Today executive producer. “We will figure out a way to signal the audience that we are going to give results. If they don't want to hear them, they can turn away.”

        For Sydney, NBC has more than doubled its coverage from the 1996 Atlanta games. More than 441 hours of Olympics will be on NBC and two sister cable channels, MSNBC and CNBC, through Oct. 1. NBC carried 171 hours from Atlanta, and 161 hours from Barcelona in 1992.

        The major difference this year is that everything will be on tape. NBC hosts will make it clear that all events are on tape, unlike NBC's “plausibly live” presentation of tape-delayed competition from Atlanta.

        No live broadcasts are planned because “the finals of most major Olympic sports will be contested in the middle of the night in the U.S., when less than 10 percent of the viewing audience is available to watch,” notes NBC's Summer Games media guide.

        For example, gymnastic finals at 7 p.m. in Sydney will be at 4 a.m. Cincinnati time.

        Advertisers don't appear to be concerned about the totally taped Summer Games. NBC has sold out all commercials for a record $900 million, says Keith Turner, NBC sales president. That is a 32 percent increase of the more than $680 million in commercial revenues four years ago, he says.

        NBC also plans a bonus for viewers — fewer commercials than usual. Olympics fans will see an average of nine minutes of commercials per hour, down from 9 1/2 minutes in 1996.

        But the lure of fewer commercials may not be enough to attract some viewers who have already heard about the medalists all day.

        “I'll watch every minute of the gymnastics,” says Robin Rohr of Fairfield, whose 7-year-old daughter Elise trains at Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy in Fairfield.

        “I watched all of the Atlanta gymnastics, even though I knew what had happened,” she says. “But knowing the results could decrease my interest in the other sports.”

        NBC executives admit the time difference will limit ratings. The network expects to average an 18 rating nationally, down from the record 21.6 rating in 1996.

        NBC researches estimate that “215 million unique viewers” will watch all or part of the Australian games. That would break the 1996 Atlanta record of 209 million, and make these Olympics the most-watched TV event.

Internet best place to follow Olympics

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