HBO first to the inauguration

Pay cabler acquires rights to entertainment-filled opening ceremony

NEW YORK -- HBO will kick off coverage of inauguration week with an exclusive telecast of the star-studded opening ceremony Jan. 18, two days before the saturation coverage of President Barack Obama's inauguration begins in earnest.

In 1993, HBO paid $1.5 million to the Presidential Inaugural Committee to exclusively televise Bill Clinton's kickoff from the Lincoln Memorial, something that annoyed non-HBO subscribers who weren't able to watch the concert by Bob Dylan and Diana Ross.

This time around, HBO -- which paid an undisclosed sum for the rights -- is planning to offer the event free to cable and satellite subscribers, regardless of whether they have the pay channel. The entertainment lineup hasn't been announced, but Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are scheduled to attend.

Meanwhile, though they won't be televising the Sunday afternoon event live, the other networks are rolling out extensive coverage plans that include a full-court press of the top anchors and correspondents, Web streaming and, in some cases, extensive radio. All three broadcast nets will feature an hour of primetime as well, capping several days of heavy coverage.

"It's more of an inaugural week than Inauguration Day," ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos said Tuesday.

In primetime, CBS anchor Katie Couric will anchor a one-hour special at 9 p.m. EST about the first hours of the Obama administration. NBC and ABC will have their own hourlong specials at 10 p.m. EST. For its part, NBC hasn't aired an hourlong inauguration special since 1993 when Clinton was inaugurated.

"It's going to be an incredibly historic day in our country's history," CBS News president Sean McManus said.

The networks saw intense interest in the presidential campaign and election that has, for the most part, carried through to the transition. CBS, for instance, logged its highest ratings in two decades for its "60 Minutes" sitdown with the President-elect and Michelle Obama.

Stephanopoulos, who will co-anchor along with Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer -- the same ABC team that anchored throughout the primaries, convention and election night -- said this inauguration is unusual in many respects.

"Here you've got the drama of the changing of the guard combined with a barrier-breaking president and the biggest challenge the country has ever faced probably since FDR was inaugurated," Stephanopoulos said.

The day will begin for the networks between 5-7 a.m. ET, when the morning shows set up the event at Capitol Hill. Another big feature will be extended online coverage. CBS, for instance, will have an exclusive, expanded inauguration site. And as she has done throughout the political season, Couric will anchor a Webcast beginning at about 10 p.m. ET.