Moving for the second time in four months to pre-empt the rest of the television industry from the marquee sporting event in the world, NBC yesterday locked up Olympic telecasts for the Summer Games of 2004 and 2008 and the Winter Games of 2006 for a combined bid of $2.3 billion.
Yesterday's announcement came after the network -- which will carry the Atlanta Games next summer -- already had committed $1.25 billion to the International Olympic Committee in August to get the Summer Olympics of 2000 in Sydney, Australia, and the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002, bringing its outlay to the IOC to $3.55 billion.
"Having the Olympics through 2008 forms the cornerstone of our vision for NBC going into the next millennium," said Robert C. Wright, president and chief executive officer of NBC.
NBC will pay the IOC $793 million for the 2004 competition, $613 million for the 2006 Games and $894 million for 2008, as part of a revenue-sharing arrangement in which the two sides will split evenly any profits after the rights fees and production costs have been covered, just as with Atlanta.
NBC paid $456 million to carry the Atlanta Olympics, and CBS spent $375 million on U.S. rights to the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol said the network likely will air between 160 and 180 hours of coverage for each Summer Games on its over-the-air network, with additional coverage being divided between two basic cable channels. Mr. Ebersol did not estimate how many hours of coverage the Winter Games would receive. Unlike 1992, when the network's "TripleCast" pay-per-view experiment flopped, Mr. Ebersol said there would be no pay-television component.
As it did with the Sydney and Salt Lake City Games, NBC snapped up rights in the next decade by making a package bid, rather than bidding for separate Olympics. That had been the tradition since CBS carried the Summer and Winter Olympics in 1960, the first to be televised, for a total of $444,000.
Sites for the Games have not been determined, but Dick Pound, chairman of the IOC's television committee, said NBC will have no say on where the Games will be held, and bid on the package knowing that none likely will take place in the United States after 2002.
"NBC will have to trust us to choose the best sites for the Games," Mr. Pound said.
Yesterday's announcement is, as Mr. Wright described, "a momentous, momentous decision" for both sides that involves the longest term of commitment to a major sports property in network television history and carries risk for each party.
For NBC, the top-rated prime-time network, the deal carries a significant commitment of cash and time during a period when rumors are floating that a share of the network, which is owned by General Electric, is for sale.
NBC officials have denied a report in Tuesday's Daily Variety that Microsoft, the computer software maker, is seeking to purchase 49 percent of the network from GE, though the two parties are discussing plans to distribute news jointly.
Yesterday's announcement makes NBC and its stations more attractive to potential buyers and to potential advertisers.
The IOC, meanwhile, has locked the Olympics into one network at prices that were determined by adding an annual 3 percent increase to the Sydney and Salt Lake City bids, but still could be well below market value by the time the Games are staged.
Mr. Pound acknowledged that prospect, but said the committee felt the financial stability the NBC bid would bring was worth the gamble. "It will enable us to plan ahead more effectively, and there will be certainty for cities bidding for Games. They'll know exactly how much they can plan for," he said.