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Remembering the 1992 Olympics Triplecast - An Idea 30 Years Ahead of Its Time

Ben Bowman

The 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics were a watershed event for many reasons. It was the first Olympics after the fall of the Soviet Union. The games turned Barcelona into the top-tier tourism destination it remains today. And those were the Olympics that assembled the NBA Dream Team of Jordan, Magic, and Bird.

But while those memories endure, there’s a chunk of ‘92 Olympic history that’s been mostly forgotten: The ill-fated Olympics Triplecast.

The promise? Three dedicated cable channels running Olympic events 24/7 without interruption.

The cost? $29.95 per day (or $125 for a full 15-day package).

It was new. It was exciting. It was eye-wateringly expensive. That price was the equivalent of $58 per day in today’s dollars.

NBC and Cablevision believed relentless hype and the lure of the Dream Team would sell the package.

They were wrong.

While the companies expected 2 million subscribers, they ended up with just 200,000. The stunt ended up losing $100 million. Somehow, the lure of 33 hours of gymnastics (yes, really) didn’t connect with the audience.

The Triplecast offered the chance to see the games live, provided you were willing to be awake to accommodate the Barcelona time zone. But in 1992, there was no Twitter to spoil the events. Most viewers simply waited to watch all the events on tape-delay on NBC. “What’s the rush?” we wondered as we pressed “play” on the Boyz II Men tapes in our Walkmans and rode our bikes to see “Wayne’s World” in a shopping mall where actual people shopped.

“People aren’t laughing at this product,” then-NBC Cable President Tom Rogers said in 1992. “They’re saying, ‘I can see how it will change watching the Olympics.’” Rogers was wrong - everyone laughed at the product. But he was right that it planted a seed that would grow into today’s wall-to-wall Olympic viewing ecosystem.

Nearly 30 years later, we’re swimming in Olympic viewing options. You can watch on your computer or your phone. Events are playing out on six cable channels, Peacock, and the NBC Sports app. You can see the games live or on several different replays. A cloud DVR allows you to watch whenever you want.

While most of America balked at the idea of the Triplecast in 1992, can you imagine if you had to wait all day to view Olympic highlights now? Would you be fine only watching replays of events that had happened hours earlier?

While NBC and Cablevision leaders were out of their minds to assume anyone would pay nearly $30 a day to watch the Olympics, the idea of nonstop sports was actually quite visionary. A channel like NFL RedZone would have given a heart attack to any normal human of 1992, but it’s an absolute joy for the football fans of today.

It’s impossible to know whether the Triplecast might have succeeded with a far lower price point. It’s likely a 1990s audience wouldn’t have known what to do with all that content. Your options were to record it on VHS or to invite your friends to a viewing party or to stay quiet to avoid ruining the fun for anyone who didn’t watch the events live. People with jobs or school couldn’t allocate 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. to the Olympics for 15 straight days.

In case you’re wondering, the man who came up with the idea was Cablevision chairman Chuck Dolan, who then passed the Triplecast torch to his son, Jim Dolan. Yes, the same Jim Dolan who’s been running the New York Knicks into the ground for the past 24 years.

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