Cable operators will have to wait to find out how much green they'll have to pay NBC for coming up with the gold in its record $2-billion U.S. rights deal for the 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games.
But they could discover in the next month whether they'll be able to opt in to a dedicated HDTV channel presenting events from the 2004 Summer Olympics from Athens, Greece.
NBC Cable Networks president David Zaslav said a decision about a package proffering a diverse array of Olympics fare could be made within the next 30 days.
"We've been talking to operators and they have expressed interest in compelling HD programming," he said. "It would offer the Olympics in bulk, with a little of everything. We're talking about compelling programming, whether it's live or on delay. It really could be a grand slam."
Although he didn't specify, Zaslav said operators would have to pay for the HD Olympics package.
"There are enormous costs involved in terms of having different cameras and technical set-ups. These are high costs for a relatively small universe, but we're leaning toward green-lighting it. We want something that positive for NBC, positive for cable operators and positive for viewers."
The price of entry for cable operators to carry the 2010 and 2012 Games was also unclear at press time. The International Olympic Committee awarded the rights to NBC on June 6, over the $1.3 billion offered by News Corp. and a $1.8 billion revenue-sharing proposal by The Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN and ABC.
"Having just won the bid, we haven't focused on that yet. We want to sit down and talk with affiliates about the opportunities and what packages make sense," said Zaslav. "There's no need to rush out now."
When NBC secured the rights to the five Olympics between 2000 and 2008, it was able to leverage those properties into long-term, double-digit rate hikes for CNBC and MSNBC.
NBC Cable affiliates also had to pay an Olympic surcharge of more than $1 annually per subscriber through 2008.
The programmer's current Olympic carriage deals with most cable operators and DBS providers extend through the 2008 Games in Beijing, China.
NBC secured VOD, PPV, broadband and Internet rights — platforms that will present opportunities and a hedge against the further splintering of traditional linear TV viewing.
For the Summer Games in Athens next August, NBC will again funnel coverage to MSNBC and CNBC, and is adding recent acquisitions Telemundo and Bravo to the roster. NBC is expected to launch a Bravo HD channel this summer.