Moscow Olympics, or how a prime-time bonanza became an also-ran

TV coverage of the 1980 Olympics certainly won't be the prime-time spectacle originally planned, but you'll still be able to catch the highlights. They'll be aired "as warranted," in the form of segments on the regular network newscasts and perhaps on other scheduled programs.

Once projected as a pull-out-all-the-stops ratings bonanza monopolizing prime time viewing hours for two weeks, TV's interest in the pared-down Moscow Olympics, minus US participation, has obviously undergone a radical change.

"There will be no telecast times and no prior promotion," a spokesman for NBC-TV told me by phone from New York. "We'll run coverage, when and if warranted, on our "Today" show, on the nightly news, and perhaps during a "Sports Journal" segment of our weekend "Sportsworld" program.

NBC, which holds the TV rights for the Moscow games, suspended its payments and dropped plans for 152 1/2 hours of special programming after the US Olympic Committee voted to honor President Carter's request for a boycott. The network also cut back drastically on its originally projected 650-person "team" for coverage of the games, but is still sending a crew of approximately 50 to handle the filming and telecasting duties that remain. The spokesman said this group consisted of "a couple of production types, a couple of researchers, and the rest all technical personnel" and that the filming they do will be "primarily for historical use."

As with other big sports events, coverage of Olympic highlights can be expected to be included in the regular package prepared each day for affiliate stations to use as they see fit on their own local newscasts.

The other networks and their affiliates also will be able to provide some coverage, but only on the limited basis spelled out for non-rights holders under International Olympic Committee rules, since despite the cutbacks and the suspension of payments, NBC is still recognized as the official rights- holder.

"We have a $60 million plus investment," the spokesman said, ading that the network has maintained a relatively cordial relationship with the Soviets, who realize that it had no choice in the situation.

The key regulation regarding non-NBC affiliates is what is known as the "3 by 2 by 3" rule, which limits such stations to three telecasts per day, of no more than two minutes each, and at least three hours apart.

Both ABC and CBS plan to have small crews in Moscow, but they will be made up exclusively of news department personnel -- as opposed to sports -- and will cover the proceedings as a news event. The coverage of the sports events seen on their affiliate stations will therefore be obtained from NBC via line feeds and used only as allowed by the "3 by 2 by 3" rule and other IOC regulations.

As for other countries, reports from Moscow indicate that the level and amount of TV coverage generally will parallel each nation's response to the boycott. Countries aligned with the Soviet Union are going all-out, with sports-mad East Germany leading the way with 12 hours of coverage scheduled each day. This is even more than planned in the host country, where Moscow-area viewers will get 11 hours daily (10 a.m. to 9 p.m.) and the rest of the country will get just under eight hours (a 20-minute wrapup of the previous day's events at 8:40 a.m.; five hours of live coverage from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; two more hours of live coverage from 7 to 9 p.m., and a 30-minute wrapup at 9:30 p.m.).

And even countries which will have much less to cheer about than these two sports powers are giving it the full ride, as shown by the 120 and 140 hours of coverage planned by Yugoslavia and Poland respectively.

Most pro-Western countries, however, have sharply reduced their plans. The Canadian Broadcasting Company, which had planned an all-out, US-type coverage, now plans none at all. Japan has cut down from 206 hours to 40, and West Germany from 180 to about 20. And even Western nations like Great Britain and France, whose teams are competing, have made similar drastic cuts.

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