Noting that the three major networks once almost made a joint bid for the Olympics in 1980, a former NBC chairman urged Monday that similar action be taken for “all U.S. television” in the future.
The price for U.S. broadcast rights to the Olympics “hasn’t been reasonable for a long time,” said Julian Goodman, who contended that “there’s a better, cheaper way to do it, one that would provide a superior service to the viewer.”
He proposed creation by the TV and cable industry of a nonprofit, independent corporation empowered to make a “single bid” for Olympics television rights, then divide the rights afterwards.
This arrangement would require Justice Department approval, he said, and “might even require Americans to do without the Olympics one year on television. But I think it can be done.”
Goodman, who retired as head of NBC in 1979, made the proposal in a guest column written for the October issue of Washington Journalism Review magazine.
His suggestion came a day after closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympics, for which NBC paid $300 million--$9 million less than what ABC paid for its money-losing Winter Olympics this year from Calgary, Canada.
NBC has said it expects to make a profit from its telecasts, although that profit is likely to be lower than anticipated because of ratings that were below the 21.2 prime-time average that NBC had guaranteed advertisers. Final figures from the A.C. Nielsen Co. are due today.
Even the $243 million that CBS is paying for the 1992 Winter Olympics from Albertville, France, Goodman said, “is too much money to pay for one event compressed into two weeks. It is disproportionate to what the rest of the world pays. And the disparity will remain as long as the U.S. network rivalries give the International Olympics Committee a chance to play one against the other.”
The single-bid corporation he proposes, he said, would be created “by the major networks, public television, cable and independent commercial stations,” all of whom would be represented on its board.
The corporation’s staff would handle Olympics negotiations “and divide the television rights into three separate packages for the major networks, a fourth package for the Fox Network if it wants to join,” and one package each for public TV, cable and independent stations, he said.
Goodman said that the three major networks almost got together to bid jointly for rights to the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow at a time when “the Soviets were whipsawing the three networks unmercifully, and no reasonable deal appeared to be possible.”
He said that, on behalf of NBC, he had met with top CBS and ABC executives, “and we agreed to bid as one, if we could get the Justice Department’s approval.” Despite expectations of getting that approval, he said, CBS “inexplicably” bowed out.
NBC subsequently bought the rights for $87 million but didn’t exercise them because the United States boycotted the Games.
“But we learned enough then to believe such an (cooperative) arrangement could work, and the time has come to try again on a formal basis,” Goodman wrote.
“The system would broaden Olympics coverage, benefit the viewer, and it would end the most dangerous Olympics game of all: being played for suckers by the International Olympics Committee.”