NBC Signs Dish Network to Olympics Deal

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New York-With the Summer Olympic Games looming, NBC has signed up EchoStar Communications Corp.'s Dish Network for its Olympics package on CNBC and MSNBC.

Dish's addition means that so far, 65 million subscribers are on board for the Games from Sydney, Australia-the first to ever air on basic cable-officials said last week.

Like other major distributors, EchoStar closed an eight-year affiliation agreement with NBC Cable that includes retransmission consent for NBC-owned TV stations; five Olympic Games during the term of the contract; renewals for MSNBC and CNBC; and rollouts of shopping network ValueVision, as well as NBC's planned digital service, CNBC2, according to NBC Cable president David Zaslav.

"We have locked down over 65 million subscribers," Zaslav said. "There are less than 10 million subscribers that have not signed up."

So far, NBC Cable has Olympic deals-a number of them including retransmission consent-with AT & T Broadband, Cox Communications Inc., Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications Inc., Adelphia Communications Corp. and DirecTV Inc., among others.

EchoStar has roughly 4 million subscribers. Officials at the direct-broadcast satellite provider couldn't be reached for comment.

Major Olympic holdouts are Cable One Inc., Comcast Corp., Cablevision Systems Corp. and the National Cable Television Cooperative. Cablevision declined to comment last week, while a Comcast spokeswoman said the MSO is in still in talks with NBC. The NCTC is also still negotiating with NBC. Cable One officials couldn't be reached.

MSOs have balked at paying a more-than-$1-per-year, per-subscriber surcharge for the NBC Olympics package on cable, which includes the next five Games up to 2008. The surcharge is meant to help NBC offset the $3.5 billion it paid for the games, with $705 million for Sydney alone.

Operators also had to sign long-term renewals and ante up license-fee increases for MSNBC and CNBC.

"Our strategy leading up to our renegotiation was to make CNBC and MSNBC as valuable as possible to the viewers," Zaslav said. "We have brought the Olympics to the cable industry in a way that brought enormous value. We are putting two-thirds of the Olympic programming on cable."

NBC Cable is also allowing MSOs that have "full commitments" to launch MSNBC and CNBC, but that don't have them 100 percent distributed yet, to temporarily add the two cable networks with the Olympic coverage to systems where they haven't yet been rolled out, according to Zaslav.

Those operators will make room to carry MSNBC and CNBC for 30 days, including the two weeks of the Games in September. That way, Zaslav said, subscribers in nonrebuilt areas that don't have MSNBC or CNBC yet won't be denied the Sydney Olympic coverage.

Last week, details on NBC's Summer Olympics on cable emerged, including the kind of "long-form" programming that will air and how four special, temporary satellite feeds will be set up to deliver it to cable operators.

During a press conference, Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports and Olympics, led a panel that outlined NBC's programming strategy for the games in September in Sydney.

NBC will broadcast primetime coverage that takes the traditional "storytelling" approach, showing event highlights.

In contrast, on MSNBC and CNBC, 279 hours out of a total of 441.5 hours from Sydney will focus on long-form programming, showing entire games and matches with little editing.

The cable outlets will be home to Olympic team sports, such as soccer, baseball and rowing. CNBC will air Olympic boxing every night from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

NBC Cable recently sent cable operators its plan for distributing the Olympics to systems that have signed up for the package. It is creating special MSNBC and CNBC satellite feeds-which will include standard programming for those networks, with the Olympics also inserted-that will be separate and apart from the existing feeds for those cable networks.

Two special feeds will supply Olympics programming for CNBC and MSNBC, respectively, to cable operators in the Eastern, Central and Mountain zones. The remaining two feeds will supply a three-hour delayed version of the programming to the Pacific zone for each of the cable networks.

NBC officials said last week that MSNBC will air 214 hours of Olympic coverage and CNBC 65 hours.

"That's not leftover events," said Molly Solomon, coordinating producer for NBC Olympic Cable Coverage. "That's not repeats."

Games coverage in Sydney will kick off on MSNBC with a USA men's soccer match Sept. 15. More than 30 Olympic finals will be seen on cable.

All of the coverage is on tape delay due to the 15-hour time difference between Australia and the East Coast.

MSNBC will air Olympic coverage from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, replaying it from midnight to 7 p.m. On weekends, it will air the games from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., replaying it at midnight.

CNBC's Olympic coverage will be from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. weekends.

Cable operators that don't sign up for the Olympics will get their current feeds of MSNBC and CNBC. CNBC will continue to provide shows such as to cable systems that don't take the Olympic feed during the week, according to a CNBC spokesman.

"During the Olympics, CNBC is still producing its live, real-time business programming," the network spokesman said.

An MSNBC spokesman said plans for alternative programming for operators that aren't taking the Olympics feed "have not been nailed down yet. They will get MSNBC news programming. It could be taped. It could be live news cut-ins."

Some operators said they have been told by MSNBC that the network will run "prior programming"-reruns of shows such as -during the day for operators that haven't signed up for the Olympics coverage.

One cable operator said NBC Cable is planning to air promos for its cable Olympic coverage on its regular, non-Olympic feeds of MSNBC and CNBC, urging subscribers to call their local operators to ask for the Olympics.

"We feel we have a responsibility to let these subscribers know we made a good-faith effort to have the Olympics available to them," Zaslav said. "We're not sure how we're going to articulate that message."

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