NBC yesterday unveiled an exhaustive programming schedule that will ensure the Athens Olympics receive more air time than the past five Summer Games combined, although much of that coverage will be taped rather than live.
Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics, said during a conference call yesterday that the network plans to televise 1,210 hours over 17 days, more than 70 hours each day on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, USA, Bravo and Telemundo and in high definition on NBC's HDTV affiliates.
Television coverage of the Olympics has increased dramatically over the past few Games. In 2000, 441.5 hours of Olympics were shown from Sydney, and every Olympics before 1976 received less total TV time than is planned for one day of the Aug. 13-29 Games.
But TV viewers still will see only about 300 hours of live coverage, mostly during morning hours because of the seven-hour time difference from Greece to the East Coast.
NBC plans to hold key events for the large prime-time audience, even on weekends, rather than showing them live. Swimmer Michael Phelps's potential bid for a record-tying seventh gold medal could come early on Saturday, Aug. 21. But those eager to see his performance will have to wait for the tape delay telecast in prime-time that evening.
"The prime-time coverage will be very close to what it's always been in the past," Ebersol said. "We're obviously looking to the largest possible audience during the time they're available."
Ebersol also said that the prime-time Olympic slot has been reduced from five hours to four hours for the Athens Games.
Another first will be NBC's use of high definition broadcasts, which are available to less than 10 percent of homes with television.
"The vast majority of these increased hours will all come from our exclusive HD coverage," Ebersol said. "We're pretty pleased we were able to do this at the last minute. It is pretty clear to us that we will be able to do the entirety of the Winter Olympics from Torino [Italy] in high definition."
But much of the 399 hours of additional HD programming won't be original. The network will play an eight-hour segment, then replay it twice before offering a new eight-hour show. Only six high-profile sports will be available to the few homes that can watch HDTV: swimming, diving, gymnastics, track and field, the medal rounds of basketball and the men's soccer gold medal final.
"This is really an experiment, the first of many we'll see with the Olympics," said Randy Falco, president of the NBC Universal Television Networks Group. "We're going to start to use new technologies going forward."
NBC also will use Telemundo to deliver the first exclusively non-English broadcast of the Olympics in the United States. The station will show nearly as many hours of Olympic programming as the entire country saw during the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Every one of the 28 Summer Olympic sports will see air time on one of the NBC networks, forcing NBC to find broadcasters with expertise in events as diverse as team handball and field hockey.
Finding some of those sports on the extensive NBC coverage might be a challenge, however, especially with some sports being seen on as many as four networks.
Gary Zenkel, executive vice president of NBC Olympics, said viewers would be able to find programming schedules through several platforms, including the network's Web site.