CBS, Time Warner might bid on 2014, 2016 Games


NEW YORK -- CBS Corp. and Time Warner Inc. executives have discussed joining forces to bid on rights to televise the Olympics in 2014 and 2016, turning that competition into an even greater clash of media titans.

TV empires headed by incumbent NBC, Fox and ABC-ESPN have all said they expect to bid on the U.S. rights to the Games. Because of the economy, the International Olympics Committee has said it is prepared to postpone its bid selection until after the host city is named next October for the 2016 Summer Games.

If CBS works with Time Warner, competition could be televised on CBS plus popular cable networks TBS and TNT. Time Warner also owns CNN, CNN Headline News, Turner Movie Classics and the Cartoon Network.

NBC Universal has set the template during the past few games by spreading sports across its properties, including CNBC, MSNBC, USA, Telemundo and a Web site devoted to the action. NBC has telecast every Summer Olympics since 1988, and would like to keep up its tradition.

The Beijing Olympics was a ratings success for NBC and its cable networks last summer, and also established that the availability of much of the event online wouldn't necessarily reduce television viewership.

The CBS-Turner talks, confirmed by both sides this week to The Associated Press, were only preliminary. No decision has been made about going forward with a bid, said Shirley Powell, a Turner Networks spokeswoman.

"Certainly, the Olympics are a very strong sports property and something that we would have potential interest [in] if it made economic sense for our company," she said.

Sean McManus, CBS Sports president, said that while the Olympics were undeniably attractive, there's a danger in thinking the success of Beijing -- keyed by Michael Phelps' eight gold medals and the attractive setting -- would necessarily carry over.

The IOC is selling TV rights to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the 2016 Summer Olympics as a package. IOC members will vote next fall among four candidates for the 2016 host city: Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.

The IOC had originally planned to open bidding before the 2016 host city was decided. Bids for the U.S. rights would likely be much higher if Chicago is the host city, and many IOC-watchers believe Chicago's chances were greatly enhanced by Barack Obama's election as U.S. president.

U.S. television viewers tend to be more interested in Olympics held on U.S. soil and, with a Chicago Games, the winning rights-holder would be able to show many events live in prime-time.

That's not the case with London, host of the 2012 Games to be televised on NBC, or with Madrid and Tokyo. Sochi has an inconvenient nine-hour time difference with the eastern United States.

In the previous rights negotiations in June 2003, NBC beat Fox and ESPN/ABC with a $2.2 billion bid.

NBC executives would not discuss negotiations, but they expect to bid. The network's sports chairman, Dick Ebersol, has worked on Olympics since the 1970s. NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker got his start at the network as an Olympics researcher.

"The incumbent always has a significant advantage when you're dealing with an event of this magnitude," Pilson said. "Anyone can produce a football game or the Super Bowl, but it takes a village to produce the Olympics."