- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 24, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — NBC’s high-definition TV coverage of the Olympics has literally and figuratively struck some owners of the fancy sets as a day late and a dollar short.

HDTV sports fans are disappointed with a limited menu of Olympic sports that can be seen on high-definition sets and that many of the events are shown 24 hours or later than they are on NBC, said Phillip Swann, who runs a technology-oriented Web site, TVPredictions.com.

About 2 million Americans have sets with the capacity to watch in high-definition resolution, a technology that offers a remarkably sharper picture than conventional TV.

NBC, which announced in June only that it would televise some events in HDTV, said it was limited by technology made available by Olympic organizers. Only some of the main Olympic venues — for track and field, swimming, gymnastics and basketball — were wired for HDTV pictures.

Its effort fell short of expectations from opening night.

Larry Gerbrandt, a television analyst at AlixPartners LLC in Los Angeles, had just bought a 50-inch plasma TV and invited his friends over for a party to watch the opening ceremonies in high-definition mode.

Instead, the HDTV feed initially offered only highlights from the 2002 Winter Olympics. When 2004 pictures eventually arrived, they weren’t narrated by veterans Bob Costas and Katie Couric, he said.

“Instead of treating the HDTV customer as a premium viewer, they’ve been treating them like throwaways,” Mr. Gerbrandt said. “NBC blew a chance to showcase and really sell HDTV.”

In public expectations, NBC may have been hurt by a series of print advertisements by electronics manufacturer Panasonic that had urged customers to buy high-definition televisions in time for the Olympics.

Mr. Swann isn’t buying the General Electric Co.-owned NBC’s line that there wasn’t enough equipment available.

“They’re GE,” he said. “They could have done this if they wanted to.”

Because of limitations from signal providers, Mr. Swann said the number of homes that could actually get the Olympic high-definition feed is considerably lower than 2 million — perhaps as low as 100,000.

NBC may simply have reasoned that those few viewers weren’t worth a significant investment. The network has already committed to carrying all of its 2006 Winter Olympics coverage in high-definition with no delays, when some estimates say more than 10 million homes will have HDTV receivers.

“They decided to do enough to make people feel they are making an effort, but not enough that they have to make much of an expenditure,” Mr. Swann said.

Mr. Gerbrandt said he has seen only one advertisement on NBC’s HDTV coverage — from a maker of a high-definition TV set.

“Given the constraints, we provided the viewers with as much HDTV as we possibly could,” said NBC Sports spokeswoman Cameron Blanchard.

The network “has not deviated from what we announced in June what we could and would show on HDTV,” she said.

NBC has generally moved more slowly into high-definition TV than CBS or ABC, Mr. Swann said.

“I think the real HD enthusiasts, the people who are passionate about this stuff and follow its twists and turns, are angry,” he said. “This will cost NBC a little bit. I don’t believe CBS would have done this. They would have put the money into it and done it right.”

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