NBC faces 'Idol' threat

By Hal Boedeker

The Orlando Sentinel

Clocking in at 418 hours, NBC Sports' coverage of the XX Winter Olympic Games qualifies as a really big show. Ratings gold, however, is not assured for NBC. Fox's red-hot "American Idol" could singe the 17-day Games, which start Friday.

NBC's research indicates that viewers intend to watch with nearly the same fervor they tuned in the Salt Lake City Games four years ago, says Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports.

"The Winter Games happen only once every four years," Ebersol says in a recent preview for TV critics. "'Idol' is going to be there for hours and hours and hours, well into May."


Despite "a pretty healthy feeling" about the ratings, Ebersol adds, "'Idol' is a strong, strong series."

Fox has reason to be hopeful after the fifth edition of "Idol" debuted to huge ratings last month. "We think the 'Idol' audience is unbelievably loyal," says Peter Liguori, president of Fox Entertainment. "This is their favorite show, and we anticipate that our ratings will be solid."

The prime-time coverage on NBC won't be live because of the six-hour difference between the Eastern time zone and Turin, Italy.

Outspoken skier Bode Miller should be a major draw. Boosting his profile were a recent "60 Minutes" interview and cover stories by Time and Newsweek.

"The amazing thing about Bode is that unlike anybody else skiing today, he's going to ski all five disciplines during the Games," Ebersol says. "He'll be a story through the entirety of the Games."

The backdrop of Turin, in northern Italy near the Swiss border, will be another attraction.

"You can't ask for a better setting," says Bob Costas, NBC's prime-time Olympic host for the sixth time. "It will be a glorious Olympic setting."

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