You think maybe that NBC plans to bring you 1,210 hours of Summer Olympics coverage from Athens -- via not just the broadcast network but also MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, USA, Telemundo and NBC's high-definition counterpart -- because it feels some sort of civic responsibility to bring you start-to-finish coverage of badminton, table tennis and women's field hockey competition?


Those 1,210 hours will be packed into the 17 days of the Olympics, which equals approximately three hours of telecasts for every hour of the day (which stars Friday).

Spreading this orgy of excess across seven channels, says Dick Ebersol, head of all things Olympics at NBC, influences cable system operators to carry all seven. Because you love watching Olympics -- even women's field hockey and badminton, NBC's betting.

Ebersol says the network first discovered this potential windfall when it decided to put some of its Summer Games coverage on MSNBC in 2000.

"I was told at the time by NBC cable operators that over 10 million homes came to MSNBC because of that," says Ebersol.

In 1995, "when I went off with [NBC executive] Randy Falco to make the deal for five Olympics, I thought it might be third or fourth on the list of why to do it. I had no idea. . . .

"I had to find out in the next few years . . . what a pent-up desire there was by cable operators to have brand- name sports. And since other big-name events, like the Super Bowl and the World Series and the NBA Finals, are never available on cable, the Olympics were The Thing.

"It turned out to be a halo benefit of the deal we really didn't see until it happened."

Ebersol forgot to mention another "halo" benefit of having the Games: In 1996, it allowed NBC to threaten to withhold its Atlanta Olympics coverage from any cable system that balked at taking the then-new MSNBC channel.