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NBC Plans To Give Local-Cable Ads an Olympian Push

With the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens less than seven months away, NBC Cable is plugging opportunities for local-cable ad sales on MSNBC, CNBC and Bravo. But MSOs peddling the Olympics will face stiff competition from local NBC stations trying to move their own inventory.

Cable's selling points, NBC Cable contends, will be loads of events and more live hours than broadcast could possibly accommodate. Combined, MSNBC, CNBC and Bravo will offer 500 hours of Olympics coverage, about double NBC's lineup. The cable nets will have a share of marquee sports and events, including 100 finals. As a boon for operators, NBC is turning over an extra minute of ad time per hour on Bravo, bringing the total local avails to three minutes. NBC also plans to generously promote the cable networks' coverage on the broadcast network.

NBC Cable has been fine-tuning its local-cable sales strategy since the 2000 Games in Sydney. Back then, sales were solid, but some cable affiliates were closing deals at the last minute. The 2002 Salt Lake Games sold well, particularly in cold-weather markets like Denver and Salt Lake City itself. Advertisers may find the Athens games more attractive because of a more TV-friendly time difference and the broader appeal of summer sports.

The Olympics, said NBC Cable President David Zaslav, "is one event that, for three weeks, all of America and all demos gather around."

For many advertisers, though, local broadcast may be the first stop. Some may augment that with a local-cable buy, too, says Maribeth Papuga, senior vice president, director of local broadcast, MediaVest, and, "if cable is priced right and packaged properly, it could make a good secondary alternative."

Local cable could also be an avenue for an advertiser that isn't a national sponsor, such as an automotive or fast-food company. NBC has exclusivity deals with advertisers in some categories; those arrangements don't extend to local-cable buys, of course.

To help MSOs pitch Athens, NBC Cable is providing their salespeople with an extensive sales guide (it even includes pat answers to frequently asked negative questions), tagable promotional spots and plenty of premiums.

Operators can't hype any high-definition coverage on cable, though. After toying with some Olympics on Bravo HD+, NBC Cable opted to stick with standard-definition this time, citing high production costs.

NBC is trying to brand each cable channel's Olympics lineup. MSNBC, for example, will have "Team USA" sports, such as soccer, basketball and softball. CNBC will offer a lot of boxing. Bravo will stick to more niche, highbrow sports, such as table tennis, equestrian, archery and badminton. At midnight ET each night, Bravo will re-air the biggest event of the day from cable or NBC.

In Los Angeles, the Bravo repeat will air smack in prime time, notes Neil Viserto, vice president of sales and marketing for SportsLink L.A., a division of Los Angeles interconnect Adlink, which sells ad time for the DMA's five cable operators. That kind of cable bonus could woo a cable-wary advertiser. "The Olympics is a valuable property, and [advertisers] want to find it wherever it is," Viserto said. "We expect this to be a very healthy event."