MSOs Unsure Olympics Will Grab Gold


As they look forward to an otherwise bright year in ad
sales, MSO executives are not sure how golden next year's Summer Olympic Games will be for

While NBC executives are shopping a 270-hour Olympics
package on CNBC and MSNBC, only a few MSOs have actually signed on. Many are waiting to
hear more details about which events the cable networks will have and how much will be
during primetime.

In the first Summer Games on cable, NBC Cable Networks will
give operators three minutes per hour in local avails, or a combined total of 1,600
30-second spots during the coverage originating from Sydney, Australia.

AT&T Broadband & Internet Services is the only MSO
confirmed to have signed up so far. Executive vice president of ad sales Jerry Machovina
has been unavailable to comment on that MSO's sales plans.

That deal also includes MediaOne Group Inc., which AT&T
is acquiring, according to NBC Cable director of local ad sales Brian Hunt.

Some other MSOs have been willing to offer admittedly
preliminary assessments on the event's sales appeal, with Cablevision Systems Corp. senior
vice president of ad sales Robert Sullivan the most bullish.

Sullivan said NBC Cable has assured him that "it won't
be all of the premiere events on NBC and leftovers on cable." Hunt pointed out that
cable will get 12 gold-medal finals, including boxing, men's and women's soccer and men's
and women's tennis.

"People will watch because it's pageantry,"
Sullivan added.

Still, operators want to see the details. Time Warner Cable
headquarters hasn't signed up for the cable Olympics yet, so Time Warner CityCable
president Larry Fischer declined to assess its appeal. But he said he wants to know which
events cable will get and whether there will be any primetime.

As Cable One vice president of ad sales Ron Pancratz said,
there probably won't be "a groundswell of interest in the quarterfinals of

By daypart, MSNBC's coverage will be chiefly in weekday
daytime -- 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. -- while CNBC will have some primetime, since its coverage
runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Hunt said. NBC's 130 hours will mainly occupy 7 p.m. to

Given the 16-hour time lag between the East Coast of the
United States and Sydney, the tape-delayed coverage will be packaged to appeal to
nonsports fans, as well as to big Olympics followers, Hunt added.

MSO sales executives also expressed some disappointment
that cable can't hit the street with Olympics inventory until past Jan. 1, after NBC wraps
up its sales effort. NBC's Olympics sales are said to be above $500 million now, heading
for $800 million.

Also, 200 hours of the Olympics package will be on MSNBC,
with only 70 hours on more widely distributed CNBC.

Sullivan's theory is that NBC Cable is using the Olympics
"to drive distribution." But Hunt said the reason was to keep CNBC's
business-news coverage intact during the day. Besides, he added, MSNBC is already in 50
million homes, and it expects 58 million subscribers by the time the Olympics begin.

Comcast Cable Communications senior vice president of ad
sales Filemon Lopez said he didn't have a handle on the Olympics' sales outlook yet. But
he recalled that previous Winter Olympics this decade -- during which Turner Network
Television picked up lesser events, mainly in weekday daytime, from CBS -- "didn't do
well" for operators.

For Sydney, Lopez felt that "the plethora of events
and the time-zone difference" might be a drag on sales and ratings.

In order for CNBC and MSNBC to have a shot at strong
ratings, Lopez maintained, NBC "must spend a lot [in marketing] to drive viewers to

For now, Hunt said, the emphasis would be on ad-sales
support for affiliates, which get sales pieces and cross-channel spots.

Next year, NBC Cable will co-sponsor "Olympic
upfront" sales efforts among the top 25 MSOs in such markets as Phoenix and San
Diego, he added.

It's also hard to assess whether there will be an impact
from holding the Sydney Olympics from Sept. 15 through Oct. 1, instead of the traditional
July-to-August time frame.

NBC pointed out that the ratings potential is higher in the
fall. But the Games will face more competition from new fall shows, baseball playoffs and
football games than they would during the rerun-laden summer doldrums.

Looking ahead, operators see greater appeal in the 2002
Winter Olympics. Those Games will originate from Salt Lake City, so most of the NBC
networks' coverage will be live.