ESPN throwing its hat in the rings

Net will bid for Olympics rights, criticizes NBC for 'live' bug

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NEW YORK -- When NBC makes a run for the U.S. rights to the 2014 and 2016 Olympics, it will have plenty of company.

ESPN president George Bodenheimer said Tuesday that his network will be in the running to air the Games. And Fox, which participated in the last round of bidding, confirmed it also is interested.

CBS also might throw its hat into the ring when the International Olympic Committee begins to entertain bids for the next round of Olympics rights, which could happen within the next six to nine months.

The ratings success of the Summer Games in Beijing has piqued the interest of the Peacock's rivals.

"If I was holding the auction, I would definitely want to hold it after this Olympics," said John Skipper, executive vp content at ESPN.

Some element of mystery surrounds the next round of bidding, including which Olympics will be awarded and when the process will start. It's likely that only the 2014 and 2016 Games will be up for grabs and that bidding will begin before October 2009, when the host cities for the '14 and '16 Games will be named.

NBC holds the rights to the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and the 2012 Summer Games in London.

Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports and CBS News, told The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday that the jury is still out on whether his network will submit a bid.

"We didn't bid last time, and I don't think a lot has changed," McManus said.

He didn't take anything away from NBC's success but said that, with the exotic locale and the Michael Phelps story line, it might be the proverbial "lightning in a bottle."

"We wouldn't base any analysis on the numbers that NBC is getting right now," McManus said.

ESPN execs also said a bid wasn't necessarily a slam dunk.

"It still has to make business sense," Bodenheimer said.

Making business sense is still a key. The Games are worth at least $1 billion each, and any network has to have the cable and broadcast assets to capitalize on them. ESPN, for instance, has some countrywide rights across the U.S.

ESPN execs applaud NBC's ratings during the Beijing Games -- and the multiplatform approach that ESPN said it pioneered a decade ago.

"It validates the belief we had 10 years ago or more that sports fans are not just enjoying sports on television," Bodenheimer said.

Skipper took NBC Sports to task for its use of a "live" bug during its West Coast telecasts of the Beijing Olympics. He also decried what he called NBC's "unnecessary manipulation" for not allowing West Coast viewers to watch Phelps' swims live.

He also said Tuesday that he doesn't think NBC's live bug on taped content was the right way to go, even though he understands the reasons.

"We would never put an event on tape delay," Skipper said. "When we put 'live' on the screen, we mean 'live right now.' We don't mean live three hours ago."

He said that if NBC was having technical trouble taking the "live" bug off its tape, ESPN would lend its technical expertise "to help them remove (it)."

NBC Sports declined comment.