NBC accedes to delayed Olympics feed

NBC has agreed to provide a delayed prime time feed to West Coast affiliates for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The network initially said it wanted to provide live coverage across the country, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern and 5 p.m. Pacific. But West Coast station affiliates protested, arguing that viewing and ad sales in the West would be lower without the delayed feed. One of the decisive factors was a telephone survey of 1,000 viewers on the West Coast who said that for the most part they would not be available at 5 p.m. to watch the games.

Jack Sander, president of Belo's broadcasting division and chairman of the NBC affiliates board of governors, said his company concluded that in Seattle alone, where it operates the NBC affiliate, viewing to the Olympics would be off more than a rating point than if the games were to air in prime time. Sander credited NBC with having an open mind and listening to the affiliates. "NBC has been champs all along the line on this," he said. "They easily could have drawn a line in the sand and said this is the way its going to be."

More than 80% of NBC's West Coast affiliates said in an earlier poll that they wanted the delayed feed. As it works out, the West Coast stations get an even better deal than those stations on the East Coast. The West Coast feed starts at 7:30 p.m. and ends at 11 p.m., preserving both early and late local newscasts in their regularly scheduled time periods.

The live Olympic feed to the East Coast starts at 8 p.m. and goes to 11:30 p.m., delaying the late news by a half hour. According to Sander NBC did not ask for anything in return for agreeing to the second and delayed feed on the West Coast, even though there is an extra cost.

Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports opposed the idea of a delayed West Coast feed from the start. And he still opposes it, despite the network's decision to do it.

He issued the following statement Monday: "A domestic Olympics cries out to be telecast live across the entire country as previous U.S. games have been. I am emphatic that delaying our prime time Salt Lake coverage is a mistake, which is exactly what I told the affiliate board when they first brought this issue to my attention earlier this year. We have each debated this issue passionately for months. I understand their position but I simply don't agree with it."

Ebersol's statement prompts the question, did he concede or was he overruled. Network sources say he didn't concede and that if it was he decision, there most likely would not be a delayed feed. "Obviously from his statement he didn't concede," said the source. "But I'll let you draw you own conclusions." - Steve McClellan