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NBC plans 'pay-per-view' Olympics

In a move that could revolutionize the way television programing isdelivered to American households, NBC is planning to offer comprehensive coverage of the 1992 Summer Olympics to cable viewers in the largest "pay per view" event in television history.

NBC and its cable television partner, Cablevision Systems Corp., plan to provide 600 commercial-free hours of coverage from the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

The Olympics cable package will cost viewers up to $150.

If successful, NBC and Cablevision could take in as much as $375-million in revenue from the event.

The pay-per-view programing will be provided in addition to the 160 hours of Olympic coverage that the NBC network will broadcast.

The pay-per-view television technology, in which viewers pay a fee to receive one-time programing, has long been regarded as an avenue to huge potential profits, especially for sports programing.

But no event has ever had sufficient magnitiude to show that viewers are willing to pay a sizable special fee to watch a television program.

With the Summer Olympics, "pay per view will finally have a massive event to capture the imagination of the American public," said Tom Rogers, president of NBC's cable operations.

"This could make it a social phenomenon."

NBC won the television rights to the 16-day Barcelona Olympics last year after agreeing to pay $401-million.

At the time, the network announced that it had become a partner with Cablevision and would devise a plan to market the cable portion of the coverage on a pay-per-view basis.

Up to now, only a few pay-per-view programs have been successful.

Still, pay per view has been promoted for years as the television

technology of the future, especially for sports.

Some people have even envisioned the Super Bowl as a pay-per-view event, with potential revenues of $500-million or more.

The NBC-Cablevision plan calls for three separate cable channels to carry the Olympics action around the clock.

Based on market research it has already conducted, NBC believes that up to 2.5-million of the more than 92-million American homes with television sets will sign up for the pay-per-view Olympics coverage.

NBC Sports will produce all the coverage, so the action will not overlap during the hours that both the network and cable programs are on the air, Rogers said.

And because the ticket price is so high, an ample number of viewers are expected to remain with the network for Olympics coverage and its advertising.

Some people questioned the idea of charging as much as $150 for the Olympics programing.

But Seth Abraham, the senior vice president of Home Box Office, said, "I think NBC has a reasonable chance of success."

About 13- to 18-million homes are capable of receiving pay-per-view events, said Marc Lustgarten, vice chairman of Cablevision.

Cable systems can offer pay-per-view events when they provide special channels that carry programing to homes that have agreed to pay a fee.