NBC President Herb Schlosser, bouyant over his network's exclusive contract to cover the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, yesterday called the project potentially "the biggest event in television hostory," and said NBC will provide 150 hours of coverage.
The network will spend more than $100 million on the games, he said, and plans to televise about nine hours a day between the July 19 opening and the closing on Aug. 3. About 65 hours of prime-time programming is scheduled.
"This is probably the most ambitious television project ever undertaken," Schlosser said at a press conference at a midtown restaurant. "It will involve the most massive array of people, technicians and equipment ever assembled for one event."
The $100-million commitment - said to be about three times what ABC paid to cover the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal - is also expected to turn a profit, according to Robert T. Howard, president of NBC Television and chief of negotiation of the contract in Moscow.
"We expect it to work out as a venture where this company will make money," he said yesterday.
The press conference was called to provide details on the NBC contract, which was reached last week after an often-tangled, highly competitive battle among the three networks for the domestic rights.
It began with an exchange that suggested the delicacy of the talks: an NBC official's uP-beat greeting of "Da Svidanya" to the assembled crowd.
But it was the wrong thing to say.
"The word you used," a heavily-accented voice advised from the side of the room, "in Russian means "Goodbye, not hello."
"Then I was tricked," the official replied, joining the laughter that filled the room.
The network announced that it will pay the Soviets $22.4 million for U.S. broadcast rights and an additional $50 million for "the supply of production facilities, services and world signal necessary for the coverage." Another $12.6 million will go to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Another $15 million in expenses is expected to bring the total to the $100 million figure. ABC paid $25 million to televise the Montreal games, with an additional $15 million in expenses, for about 75 hours of air time.
But the questioning turned repeatedly yesterday to speculation that NBC had been asked to agree to limit its coverage on nonathletic events that might prove embarrassing to the Soviet government.
"There are no strings attached to this deal," Howard said. "We're there to cover a sporting event and that's what we're going to do."
"In no way does the Soviet Union want to have anything interfere with these games," he remarked later. "The only banning (of other countries, as occurred in Montreal) or anything along those lines now would have to come from the IOC, and we are sure that is not going to happen.
" . . . The Soviets are so strong on this that they feel this will be the greatest thing that has happened to the Soviet Union in some time."
The executives, who also included senior vice president Alvin Rush, and vice president for sports operations Chester R. Simmons, said the network would not be under any obligation to televise any Russian-made feature films depicting Soviet lifestyles. Nor, they said, would there be any similar restrictions or requirements.
The officials acknowleged the assistance of Lothar Bock, a German-based promoter who served first as an intermediary between CBS and the Soviet negotiators, and later intervened on NBC's behalf when CBS dropped out of the bargaining.
"Lothar Bock is a gentleman who has been in on the production and distribution on an international scale for many years," explained Rush, who said he had met Bock "many times" at meetings over the past three years. "He's well-known to many people in the industry who co-produce in Bavaria. Germany and other European countries . . . I regard him as fairly well skilled."
For his "fair" skills, Bock is to receive $1 million from the network, which will also purchase from him three programs a year for the next five years. Terms of those transactions were not disclosed, but the spokesmen stressed that the NBC would have complete control over the editing of the shows.
Included among the programs to be considered for acquisition by NBC are productions of the Russian opera "Boris Godunov," and the ballet. "The Nutcracker," Bock will also advise the network in its preparations for televising the 1980 games.
Although composition of the broadcasting teams to be assigned to the games remains undecided, the officials said, the network will have "between 250 and 300" employees on the scene.
"We're delighted." Schlosser said after the conference had ended. "We did raise our offer after ABC went in with their last bid and we got what we were after. It's going to be an exciting four years."
"Now you can say 'Da Svidanya,'" a directly American voice called out from the crowd that was inching its way toward the stairs. "Now is when the Russians would say it."