Those huge rights fees also buy ratings and a tremendous promotional platform for the network and its affiliates like WBAL, the Hearst-owned station in Baltimore.

"In terms of audience, it's like having a Ravens game every night for 17 straight nights," says Dan Joerres, vice president and general manager of WBAL. "It's a chance to promote our fall lineup, some of our new syndicated shows, our newscasts, our talent and new NBC prime-time series. You have a chance to promote all of that with a huge audience night after night."

WBAL, which lost some ratings ground since Oprah Winfrey left its airwaves, is rearranging its schedule and adding a new nightly program to try to take advantage of the larger audience the Olympics is expected to attract.

Starting Friday, the station will be producing a half-hour nightly show, "WBAL's Olympic Zone." Hosted by Donna Hamilton and Gerry Sandusky, the telecast will offer area viewers 30 minutes of Olympic coverage built around story lines featuring Phelps and the other athletes from Maryland.

The show will air nightly at 7:30 except Friday when it will air at 7 because of the 7:30 start for NBC's coverage of the Opening Ceremonies.

Hearst is also employing Hilary Phelps, one of Michael's sisters, as a "special correspondent" for the Olympics.

"There's a Hearst contingent at the Olympics covering it for all the Hearst-NBC stations like us, and she's part of that reporting for us," Joerres said of Phelps, who runs a lifestyles blog. "Obviously, she's going to have some exclusivity, whether it's with Michael or involves her personal take on things. She'll be reporting back and forth, whether it's online or on television in creating packages for us to put in our newscasts."

Joerres is one affiliate manager who likes Bell's vision for coverage of the Games.

"It's no different than our typical news days where we're on the go, on-air, online constantly updating our mobile platforms and our TV platform," he said.

"But let's just say hypothetically that Michael Phelps gets that third medal he's going after to set the record, and we get that information a couple of hours prior [to prime time] and people can read that online," Joerres said.

"Still, there's nothing like being able to see that moment on television. That's the sweet spot. It's the best of both worlds. People get information when and where they want it. But to see the actual moment of victory, we are the ones who have that in prime time."

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/baltimoresun

Summer Olympics: 1960 telecast vs. today

Location: Rome vs. London

Broadcaster: CBS vs. NBC

Cost of broadcast rights: $394,000 vs. $1.18 billion

Daily coverage: 30 minutes a night on CBS vs. wall-to-wall on NBC Universal's multiple channels and online

Anchor: Jim McKay in New York vs. Bob Costas, Al Michaels, Mary Carillo and Dan Patrick in London

Media: Videotape flown to New York daily to be aired on CBS vs. NBC, sister cable channels, satellite, Internet, social media



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