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Sunday, September 17, 2000
Olympics junkies hit Canadian TV

 DETROIT (AP) -- Millions of Americans tuned in to NBC to watch the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics.

 Stefanie Kerska wasn't one of them. She was too busy watching triathlete Sheila Taormina of suburban Livonia, Mich., attempt to become only the second woman to win a gold medal in different events in separate Olympics.

 NBC's coverage is broadcast on tape delay, so while NBC watchers viewed the opening ceremony Friday night, Olympics junkies such as Kerska tuned into the CBC's coverage to watch the women's triathlon as it happened. NBC aired it the next night.

 Many American Olympics diehards who live near the Canadian border will be in their recliners watching CBC despite the inconvenience of a 15-hour time difference. The fact that Australia is halfway around the world from North America means CBC will have to show many events in the middle of the night.

 In border cities such as Detroit, Seattle and Buffalo, viewers can access CBC on their cable systems. People with certain satellite dishes also have access to the network.

 "I'm sure I'll watch NBC, but to try and really hone in on what we're looking for and catch a glimpse of our swimmers, our best bet is to tune in to CBC," said Kerska, assistant coach for the University of Michigan women's swim team.

 She watched from her Ann Arbor home Friday (Saturday in Sydney) as Taormina -- a member of the women's 800-metre freestyle relay team that won the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games -- finished sixth in the women's triathlon.

 It wasn't immediately clear how many U.S. viewers tune in to CBC.

 "We want to give Canadians and border stations a chance to see the Olympics live," said CBC spokesman Christian Hasse. "It's an alternative that viewers have. If you want to get up in the middle of the night and watch live you can. It's magic that happens every four years."

 The lure of prime-time advertising dollars has pushed NBC's coverage to tape exclusively. NBC will air events in prime time, 12-15 hours after they conclude.

 For the first two days, including the opening ceremony, NBC's average rating for prime-time telecasts from Australia was a 14.5. That's six per cent lower than Seoul's 15.4, and a drop of 30 per cent from Atlanta's 20.5.

 A rating measures the percentage of TV sets tuned to a particular program.

 Canadian ratings are not yet available.

 NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol has said he expects NBC's prime-time coverage to average between a 17.5 and 18.5 over the course of the Olympics.

 Each rating point for NBC represents 1,008,000 households, or one per cent of the nation's estimated 100.8 million TV homes.

 The network will fill chunks of its 1621/2 hours (cable channels MSNBC and CNBC have another 279 hours, including repeat broadcasts of events already aired on tape) with storytelling -- features about athletes, events and locales.

 Historically, NBC has broadcast much of its Olympics coverage on tape. Roughly 60 per cent of the Olympics was taped in the 1996 Atlanta Game and all of the network's prime-time coverage was taped during the 1992 Barcelona Games, NBC Sports spokeswoman Cameron Blanchard said.

 The network's decision to forgo live coverage of Sydney was based on research that indicated only about nine per cent of the audience watch the Olympics in the morning, Blanchard said.

 "Our job is to bring the Olympics to the widest viewing audience," she said. "We can't afford to show it in the wee hours of the morning when the majority is not watching."

 The 1988 Seoul Games resulted in a ratings disaster for NBC, which mixed live with taped coverage from a city with a 14-hour time difference from the East Coast.

 NBC's Seoul telecasts averaged a 17.9 rating, well off the 21.2 the network had promised advertisers, and the 21.6 the network got four years ago in Atlanta.

 Robert Thompson, a professor of television, radio and film at Syracuse University, said the success of Survivor proves that viewers will tune into programming where the outcome already has been decided.

 "The Olympics is a soap opera, a drama. It has as much in common with 'E.R.' as the Super Bowl, maybe more," Thompson said. "A lot of that audience are not sports fans. If they were watching for the outcome, then the live thing would be a problem."

 CBC also will air features, but much of its coverage will be devoted to live events.

 "I've had people from New York and other places ask can they get Canadian television," said Jim Richardson, women's swimming coach at Michigan. "I know people that are upset that they can't get CBC's coverage. ...

 "Their (NBC's) presentation is entertainment. To me, the entertainment is watching the sport."

 Dave Alsager of Mount Pleasant, Mich., agreed.

 "The CBC doesn't do so much of the baloney stuff," said Alsager, who added that he and his daughters plan to tape CBC's coverage and watch it in the morning. "They don't do the up close and personal stuff."
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