By HOWARD FENDRICH -- Associated Press
NEW YORK -- The setting NBC Sports chose to announce plans for its coverage of the Sydney Olympics hardly could have been less appropriate: the "Saturday Night Live" studio.
There won't be anything "live" about the network's broadcasts from Australia.
And even though, primarily via the Internet, Americans will be able to find out the results of competitions before they air, NBC is counting on good ratings and making money.
"We are already assured of a small profit," NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said Wednesday.
NBC's ad-sales target was $780 million, $100 million more than for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
"We are still selling," he said, "and we anticipate closing up around Labor Day at just over $900 million."
NBC paid $705 million for the rights to the 2000 Olympics, which will run Sept. 15-Oct. 1, as part of a $3.5 billion package that gives the network exclusive U.S. broadcast rights to the next five Summer and Winter Games through 2008.
He said the IOC's bribery scandal, centering on Salt Lake City's winning bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics, "never affected our sales."
Because of the 15-hour time difference between Sydney and the East Coast, and the number of evening finals at the Summer Olympics, particularly in higher-profile events like swimming and track and field, all competition will be shown on tape.
That goes for the 1621/2 hours on NBC plus the 279 on cable outfits MSNBC (214) and CNBC (65). There is a slightly decreased number of hours from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics on NBC proper (1711/2) -- but more than double overall.
"It was really important for us to come 100 percent clean and say what we were going to do," Ebersol said of letting audiences know the games will be entirely on tape. "The first three days of the Olympics, we've made a commitment to telling viewers."
If competition were shown live, it would be on in the early morning hours in the United States, when, Ebersol said, "there's nobody watching TV."
The bulk of NBC's daily coverage, hosted by Bob Costas, will be in prime-time from 7 p.m. to midnight ET-PT, and Ebersol said he anticipates the average national Nielsen rating to be between 17.5 and 18.5.
NBC averaged a 21.6 rating at the 1996 Games, which were held in late July and early August.
A rating point for NBC represents 1,080,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 100.8 million TV homes.
"The competition is tougher with pro football, prime-time fare, maybe some meaningful baseball pennant races," Ebersol said. "But I never look at (the Olympics) as having a particularly tough road to hoe against other sports."