NBC to Expand Olympics Coverage

NBC's blanket coverage of the 2004 Olympics in Athens (search) just got a little thicker.

The network said Wednesday it was planning an additional 399 hours of Olympics programming this summer for a total of 1,210 hours, or more time on the air than the last five Summer Games combined.

Most of the extra hours are accounted for by a limited number of sports that will be shown in high-definition television on the network's digital affiliates. Swimming (search), diving, gymnastics (search), track & field (search) and medal games in men's basketball and soccer will be shown on HDTV in a 24-hour tape loop. This is available to less than 10 percent of homes with television.

NBC's recent merger with Universal added USA to the fold, and that cable network will telecast three hours of the Olympics each morning.

The coverage will start two days before the opening ceremony, with a live MSNBC telecast of the U.S. women's soccer team playing the hometown favorites, Greece, on Aug. 11.

Between NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo and USA, viewers will be able to see English-language Olympics broadcast all day and night. Telemundo will provide Spanish-language Olympics highlights each day from 1 to 8 p.m. ET.

All 28 sports will be covered. NBC is responding to viewer calls for more coverage with a test of how much fans will be able to stomach.

"This is really an experiment, the first of many we'll see with the Olympics going forward," said Randy Falco, president of the NBC Universal Television Networks Group. "Some of it will work and some of it won't work."

Much of the more than 300 hours of live coverage will be confined to the daytime hours on the cable affiliates, because of a seven to 10-hour time difference in the United States with Athens.

The prime-time NBC broadcasts will be heavy on swimming, gymnastics and track & field, plus the kind of feature stories that allow viewers to get to know athletes, said Dick Ebersol, NBC Sports chairman.

The desire to drive viewers to NBC's prime-time means some events that could be shown live on cable during the day will be held back instead, Falco said.

NBC is just shy of 90 percent toward its goal of selling $1 billion in advertising for the games, he said.

Ebersol said he didn't believe that much-publicized construction delays in Athens will cause any problems for NBC.

"They've done a remarkable job," he said. "It's just been late. But it's done now or close to done."

A bigger issue may be traffic snarls and delays caused by security. NBC is ready to report on it if an athlete misses an event for these reasons, he said.