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Shifting gears

NBC airs men's basketball final live

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Latest: Sunday October 01, 2000 12:59 AM

  Vin Baker Seattle SuperSonic Vin Baker throws down a dunk against France. Kevin T. Gilbert/AFP

NEW YORK (AP) -- Live, from Sydney, it's Saturday night!

Shifting from its policy of not showing a single second of competition live from the Sydney Olympics, NBC Sports aired the men's basketball gold medal game between the United States and France as it happened.

The network originally planned to show the game with the shortest tape-delay of these games -- about 20 minutes -- but switched gears a few hours before the tip-off (at 1:15 p.m. Sunday in Sydney, 10:15 p.m. EDT Saturday).

The U.S. team's 85-75 victory was shown live in the Eastern and Central time zones. Viewers in the Mountain and Pacific time zones, though, were to see the game on tape during their prime times.

"This decision had nothing to do with the debate over live versus taped. The decision was made today when it became apparent it would work and the opportunity was there," NBC Sports vice president Kevin Sullivan said from Sydney.

"It was a matter of the schedule. The game was always intended to be in the Saturday prime-time show, and then it worked out that it could be shown live."

Studio host Bob Costas introduced the game by saying, "Right now -- early Sunday afternoon in Sydney, Saturday night back in the United States -- the men's gold medal basketball game is set to begin."

There was no other indication, such as an on-screen graphic, that the game was live.

Midway through the first half, viewers were taken back to the studio for a snippet of a taped interview Costas did with sprinter Maurice Greene about two hours earlier.

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Sydney is 15 hours ahead of the East Coast, prompting NBC to show Olympic competition on tape. Events have been shown to U.S. viewers as many as 24 hours after they happened.

Some gold medal finals could have been aired live during prime time in the United States, including Venus Williams' singles tennis victory and the Olympic debut of the triathlon.

But NBC has said its commitment to showing everything on tape would have made it difficult to shift some action to live airings, in part because it would have required rescheduling of programming.

"Tennis is not one of the traditional prime-time Olympic sports. Every final from swimming and diving and track and field was late at night (in the United States) and could not be broadcast live," Sullivan said.

"This was the only final of those major sports that could be aired."

The large time gap between Australia and the United States is one of the factors that probably contributed to NBC's Nielsen ratings being far lower than expected.

Friday night's program, which included Marion Jones competing in the long jump and the U.S. basketball team's two-point semifinal victory over Lithuania, pulled in a 10.6 rating (each point represents a little more than 1 million TV homes).

That's 15 percent lower than the previous worst nightly rating for these Olympics (Tuesday's 12.4), and 35 percent lower than what advertisers were told to expect (16.1). No night at any of the past three Summer Games rated worse than the 12.3 for the closing ceremony at Seoul 12 years ago.

In an unrelated programming shift, NBC moved its documentary about Muhammad Ali, "Twice Born," from Saturday to Sunday at 5 p.m.

Related information
Olympics' TV ratings drop to new low
Dream Team keeps France at bay to claim gold
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