CBS Olympic broadcasts

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CBS Olympic broadcasts
The Olympics on CBS logo from their Winter Olympics coverage during the 1990s.
Genre Olympics telecasts
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 2 (1960s version)
3 (1990s version)
5 (total)
Production location(s) Various Olympic Games sites
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time Varies
Production company(s) CBS Sports
Original network CBS
Picture format 480i (SDTV)
Original release Original run: February 18 (1960-02-18) –
  • September 11, 1960 (1960-09-11)
  • Second run (Winter Olympics):
  • February 8, 1992 (1992-02-08) – February 22, 1998 (1998-02-22)
External links

The broadcasts of the Olympic Games produced by CBS Sports was shown on the CBS television network in the United States. The network's last Olympics broadcast was the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.


1960s coverage[edit]

The first live telecast of the Olympics on American television[1][2] was from the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California. CBS paid just $50,000 to obtain the broadcast rights. Walter Cronkite[3] hosted the game telecasts, anchoring on-site from Squaw Valley. With Squaw Valley connected to the network lines, some events were broadcast live while the remainder of the network's coverage was of events shown on the same day they took place. During the games, officials asked Tony Verna, one of the members of the production staff, if it could use its videotape equipment to determine whether or not a slalom skier missed a gate. Verna then returned to CBS headquarters in New York City and developed the first instant replay system, which debuted at the Army–Navy football game in 1963. The event in Squaw Valley was the last time CBS would carry a Winter Olympics until 1992.

Later that year, CBS aired the 1960 Summer Olympics from Rome, the only time that CBS has ever televised a Summer Games event. The network carried about 20 hours of coverage of such events as track and field and swimming.[4] Because communications satellites, which would have provided direct transmissions between the United States and Italy, were not yet available, production staff members fed footage from Rome to London, re-recorded it on tape there, and then the tapes were flown to CBS headquarters in New York (or a mobile unit parked at Idelwild Airport in New York, to lessen time that transporting videotapes into the city would take) for later telecast.

Despite this, at least some of the events, especially those held in the morning and early-afternoon (local time in Rome), actually aired in the United States the same day they took place (often during a half-hour late-night show that aired from 11:15 to 11:45 p.m. Eastern Time). Jim McKay, then a relatively unknown radio and television personality, was the host, anchoring not from Rome, but from the CBS studios in New York City.[5]

1990s coverage[edit]

Although CBS bid on the rights to several Olympics in the 1970s and 1980s, the network lost the bidding to rivals, usually NBC and ABC. When the 1990s rolled around, CBS won the rights to three consecutive Winter Games: 1992,[6] 1994 and 1998.

The network provided some live coverage of the 1992 Games in Albertville, France on weekend mornings and afternoons (and on the last Friday morning (Eastern Time) of the Games to show live the men's ice hockey semifinal between the United States and Unified Team, but most of the events (and all of the prime time coverage) were broadcast by CBS on tape delay, owing to the time difference between the United States and Europe. A similar format was used two years later in 1994 when the Winter Games adopted a new schedule, midway between the four-year Summer Games cycle, instead of in the same year as the Summer Olympics.

The 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway saw the highest nighttime ratings in the history of American Olympic telecasts, as a result of the scandal in which associates of figure skater Tonya Harding attacked Nancy Kerrigan and the media frenzy that followed. The short program in women's figure skating, which aired on February 23 is, as of 2008, the sixth-highest rated prime time television program in American history. It had a rating of 48.5 and a share of 64 (meaning 48.5% of all television sets in the U.S. and 64% of all television sets turned on were tuned into CBS). The long program two days later had a rating of 44.1 and another 64 share; it ranks 32nd.[7] Both the short and long programs were shown on tape delay during prime time about six or so hours after the events had taken place.

Also contributing to the huge ratings in 1994 were a surprise gold medal by American skier Tommy Moe, as well as Dan Jansen's speed skating gold medal win, and, on the final morning (Eastern Time) of the Games, a dramatic championship game in men's hockey between Sweden and Canada, won by Sweden in a shootout. It should also be noted when the construction of the Lysgårdsbakken jumping hills started in 1992, the hills had to be moved some meters north so that television broadcasters (including CBS) could get the best pictures available from their pre-chosen location.

The 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan did feature some live prime time coverage in the Eastern and Central Time Zones (the Opening Ceremonies and some alpine skiing events), since these events were being held in the morning local time in Japan, which corresponded to the prime time slot in the U.S. Much of the men's and women's hockey action was held in the early afternoon (during late night in the Eastern Time Zone, allowing again for live broadcasts at 12:30 a.m. Eastern Time), however figure skating was shown on delay about 20 hours after the competitions took place so they could air in prime time.

Each telecast had a different prime time host(s): Paula Zahn and Tim McCarver[8] in 1992, Greg Gumbel[8][9] in 1994, and Jim Nantz[8] in 1998. CBS' theme music for their Olympic coverage was composed by Tamara Kline.[10]

In 2011, CBS Sports president Sean McManus said the option to bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics or 2016 Olympics "is not a priority of ours right now."[11] Indeed, NBC now has American television rights to the Olympics locked-up through the 2032 Summer Games.

Hours of coverage[edit]

Year Host Hours of Coverage
1960 Winter Squaw Valley, United States 15[12]
1960 Summer Rome, Italy 20[12]
1992 Winter[13] Albertville, France 116[12]
1994 Winter[14] Lillehammer, Norway 119.5[12]
1998 Winter[15] Nagano, Japan 123.8[12]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "1960 Winter Olympics – The First Televised Olympic Games". Television Obscurities. February 2010. 
  2. ^ Billings, A.C., Angelini, J.R., & MacArthur, P.J. (2018). Olympic Television: Broadcasting the Biggest Show on Earth. Routledge. ISBN 9781138930322. 
  3. ^ "CBS at 75". CBS. Retrieved January 6, 2010. 
  4. ^ Dusty Sanders (July 24, 2012). "Dusty Saunders: NBC's coverage of London Summer Olympics starts with Bob Costas". The Denver Post. Retrieved July 24, 2012. 
  5. ^ David Maraniss (2008). Rome 1960: The Olympics that Changed the World. New York: Simon & Schuster. 
  6. ^ William Oscar Johnson; William Taaffe (December 26, 1988). "A Whole New Game". Sports Illustrated. 
  7. ^ "All-Time Top Rated TV Programs". ESPN Sports Almanac 2008. 2008. p. 602. 
  8. ^ a b c "CBS at 75". CBS. Retrieved January 6, 2010. 
  9. ^ O'Brien, Pat. I'll Be Back Right After This: My Memoir. p. 174. 
  10. ^ "1992 Winter Olympics theme--Tamara Kline". 
  11. ^ David Barron (February 8, 2011). "McManus dropping news duties at CBS". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved February 11, 2011. 
  12. ^ a b c d e Michael Hiestand; Rudy Martzke (April 22, 2003). "Bidding for the Olympics on TV". USA Today. Gannett Company. 
  13. ^ ""Albertville 1992: XVI Olympic Winter Games" (1992) ... Distributor (1992) (USA) (TV)". IMDb. 
  14. ^ ""Lillehammer 1994: XVII Olympic Winter Games" (1994) ... Distributor (1994) (USA) (TV)". iMDb. 
  15. ^ ""The 18th Olympic Winter Games" (1998) (TV series)". iMDb. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
First Winter Olympics to be broadcast
U.S. Winter Olympics Broadcaster
CBS Sports

Olympics on CBS (1960)
Succeeded by
ABC (1964-1968)
Preceded by
ABC (1976-1988)
U.S. Winter Olympics Broadcaster
CBS Sports/Turner Sports

Olympics on CBS/TNT (1992-1998)
Succeeded by
NBC (2002-present)
Preceded by
First Summer Olympics to be broadcast
U.S. Summer Olympics Broadcaster
CBS Sports

Olympics on CBS (1960)
Succeeded by
NBC (1964)