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NBC will keep trying to ride Phelps’ wave

Trying to keep the Michael Phelps glow, NBC has agreed to televise next year’s World Swimming Championships from Rome, along with the 2009, 2010 and 2011 national championships.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Trying to keep the Michael Phelps glow, NBC has agreed to televise next year’s World Swimming Championships from Rome, along with the 2009, 2010 and 2011 national championships.

The deal, announced Thursday, is NBC’s latest attempt to ride the wake of the Olympic golden boy’s race to history. In large part because of Phelps’ successful attempt to win eight gold medals in Beijing, NBC Universal’s Olympic telecasts have been a ratings success. ( is a joint venture between NBC Universal and Microsoft).

Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, had told the AP earlier that Phelps would definitely compete in Rome.

“It’s like Michael said the other day, ‘Debbie (Phelps’ mother) wants to go to Rome, I want to go to Rome, that’s why we’re going,”’ he said.

Bowman said that in Rome the swimmer will focus on relays and shorter events, including the 100-meter freestyle and one of the backstroke events.

NBC has been advertising its own DVD of Phelps highlights since less than a half-hour after he earned his eighth medal. No immediate sales figures were available. The swimming star will also make an appearance from London during Sunday’s closing festivities, NBC said. London is the site of the 2012 Olympics.

And guess who has already signed on to appear at this winter’s Super Bowl, also broadcast by NBC?

The swimming championships will be shown on NBC for the first time. The network already has the rights to the 2012 U.S. Olympic swimming trials and the London games.

“The whole world watched as Michael Phelps took his sport to a new level and introduced a generation of fans to swimming through his extraordinary achievements,” said Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics. “His accomplishments transcend sports and are, in fact, a cultural phenomenon. We’re greatly looking forward to following the next chapter in his career.”

NBC Universal will top its ratings from the Athens Olympics four years ago — an unusual feat in today’s TV world. During the half-hour that Phelps raced for his eighth gold medal, NBC had 39.9 million viewers. More people were interested in that relay than in finding out the next “American Idol” or winners of this year’s Academy Awards.

Phelps dutifully made the rounds of interviews at NBC after the race, visiting Bob Costas on Sunday’s prime-time Olympic broadcast, the “Today” show’s Matt Lauer on Monday and “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams Monday.

Jim Bell, executive producer of “Today,” had his complete team of Lauer, Meredith Vieira, Ann Curry and Al Roker in Beijing, a decision that paid off handsomely. “Today” last week had the widest margin of victory over ABC’s second-place “Good Morning America” in eight years, nearly 3 million viewers on Friday.

“You get that kind of margin, and you have to think you’re getting some people watching your show who don’t always watch the show,” he said. That’s not a bad place to be heading into the Democratic National Convention next week and the general election campaign.

Same thing at “Nightly News,” where Williams anchored at dawn in Beijing. His broadcast has been running nearly neck-and-neck with ABC’s “World News” this year, and last week won by 2.5 million viewers.

At ESPN, where Phelps gave a much-replayed interview with Jeremy Schaap, the swimmer has also received much attention. But because NBC is the Olympics rights-holder, ESPN is limited in where it can send camera crews in Beijing and in how much it can use video replays of Phelps’ race. That’s limited much of their coverage to discussions, said Vince Doria, senior vice president and news director.

ESPN executives said this week they are interested in bidding for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics, as they have for past Olympics, and the experience of Phelps and NBC this week only increases their interest, Doria said.