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Olympics in HD a reality

The 2002 Winter Olympics will be broadcast in high definition by NBC's digital affiliates and HDNet, carried on DirecTV. HDNet will provide the vehicles and technical support needed for the 1080i broadcasts.

The HD coverage will total 24 hours a day (eight new hours daily, the rest rebroadcasts) but will include only events from the previous day, Mark Cuban, co-founder and chairman of HDNet, explained last week. "Every consumer electronics store that has half a brain will be showing the Olympics in high definition," he claims. "I think that, as much as anything, provides a lot of the impetus behind what we're doing."

He believes that the Olympics will spur HDTV installations in sports bars and other venues. "Whatever household on the block that has an HDTV is going to be the place to be," he adds.

Gary Zenkel, NBC Olympics executive vice president, sees the move as a large step forward in NBC's digital and HD efforts, a step the network is taking with relative ease, he says: "The opportunity existed to take the HD program feeds, add a little bit of NBC to it, and offer it to our digital affiliates without a lot of heavy lifting."

There will be some advertising, Zenkel says, but it will be less than on the standard-definition feed. The network advertising will be upconverted advertising from the SD broadcasts, but there will be a number of local avails for the NBC stations to sell. NBC is also still pursuing a sponsor for the HD coverage, but Zenkel says there hasn't been much interest in that to date.

HDNet's two HD production vehicles will be in Salt Lake City. According to Cuban, NBC will provide the producers and management for the coverage while HDNet will provide the other personnel.

Zenkel says that was an important aspect of the deal because NBC had not planned to have a staff that could accommodate the additional production.