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Originally published February 8, 2010 at 10:01 PM | Page modified February 9, 2010 at 12:05 AM

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KING-5's planning for Winter Olympics began 7 years ago

For Peter O'Connell, the man in charge of KING-TV's Olympics coverage, those 17 days have been seven years in the making.

Seattle Times staff reporter

If you're the local NBC affiliate and the Winter Olympics is just 150 miles north, the pressure is on.

For KING-5 TV, the Vancouver Olympics are a local story hitched to the massive network output each day. NBC bet $820 million on the U.S. rights to the Games.

Peter O'Connell is the man in charge of KING's coverage. The station is spending about $250,000 for a staff of 25 to provide that local angle. It's not millions of dollars, but in tight economic times, it's plenty.

And each day, O'Connell carries some indispensable items for a project he began working on nearly seven years ago:

There is the BlackBerry with a constant stream of e-mails; the spreadsheet printout with daily updates; the notepad with to-do scribblings.

The value of the 17-day Games are bumps in ratings and ads, and in perceptions viewers form of a station and network as a brand.

Vancouver was awarded the title of host city July 2, 2003.

That day, O'Connell began planning for lodging at Whistler, the main outdoor venue for the Olympics. He knew the spots closest to the action would go early.

At one point, even buying a condo in Whistler was considered.

"The company decided it wasn't in the business of being landlords," says O'Connell.

It eventually found a two-bedroom condo at Whistler that sleeps up to eight and has a rent "that comes to less than $200 a night per head," he says.

The details he deals with seem endless.

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On his notepad, O'Connell has written a reminder to check on a graphic. It shows an ice skate zooming across the screen, accompanied by the sound of a skate on ice.

The problem is that the sound effect is heard before the skate moves. It has to be fixed.

O'Connell checks the printout of his spreadsheet.

It shows that U.S. short-track speedskaters — including Seattle star Apolo Ohno — will take to the ice to practice for the first time in Vancouver at 8 on Saturday morning. O'Connell needs to have a crew there.

"Thousands of phone calls," says O'Connell of what is needed to get such details. "If you're trying to figure out how to cover these things while the Games are under way, you're lost."

NBC expects to lose $200 million on the games. Back in June 2003, when it bid $2 billion for not just the Vancouver Games, but also the 2012 Summer Games in London, the economic climate was rosy.

The network expected to recoup its investment through ad sales. NBC had made $70 million in 2002 on the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, according to Sports Business Journal.

But then the economy tanked.

KING, though, isn't losing money on its Olympics coverage, says station manager Pat Costello.

The Seattle station, which also aired the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics, always has done well in the ratings during those events, Costello says. KING expects ratings to triple or quadruple during prime-time Olympics programs in the demographically desirable 25-to-54 age group.

"The Northwest is among the Top 10 in ratings, sometimes the Top 5," Costello says of past Winter Olympics. "We're sort of a winter-sports place."

The station will get revenue from ads during the NBC prime-time shows, and from the KING-produced "Olympic Zone" show that will run Monday through Saturday from 7:30 to 8 p.m., right before NBC's prime-time coverage.

KING also will have 2 ½ to 3 minutes of local Olympics coverage during its various newscasts, a good chunk of time by TV news standards.

A major reason for the prime-time ratings bump for the Winter Olympics is that considerably more women are watching than most sports events, says Neal Pilson, president of Pilson Communications in Chappaqua, N. Y., and former president of CBS Sports.

"In prime time, women comprise 60 percent of the audience," Pilson says of the Winter Games, "in contrast to a basketball game or hockey game, which is usually 75 percent men."

That's why, he says, NBC is focusing its prime-time coverage not on a team sport like hockey, but figure skating, "which is the most compelling event for women ... women want to watch beauty and skill and grace."

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

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