LEWISTON – Oxford Networks subscribers who want their curling, ski jumping and bobsledding likely won’t be out of the loop when the Winter Olympics unfold next month, after all.

A company representative confirmed Wednesday that the digital cable provider is in the final stages of negotiations to pick up non-prime time Olympic coverage on NBC’s family of cable networks.

“With any kind of cable service, there are negotiations that take place and contracts to be signed,” said Mike Tompkins, Oxford Networks’ director of sales and marketing.

“We actually just got the contracts back and are reviewing them now. We have every intention (of broadcasting the games).”

In addition to blanket coverage of major events at the Turin Games on its flagship network, NBC presents around-the-clock coverage of live and taped events on its smaller affiliates, including CNBC and USA.

Some subscribers probably weren’t aware of a possible conflict, but Stephan Myers of Auburn has both keen interest and a long memory.

Myers looked forward to watching the full spectrum of events from the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens until he discovered that Oxford Networks blacked out coverage on the cable channels, supplanting rowing and judo with movies and situation comedies.

“Just because they aren’t glamorous sports and the United States doesn’t excel at them doesn’t mean we aren’t interested,” Myers said. “(The sister networks) also carry a lot of the preliminary round games. A lot of us might be excited to watch Japan vs. Jamaica in hockey.”

After paying its hefty price tag to broadcast the Games, NBC offers full coverage to cable companies and digital providers as a premium service.

Oxford Networks elected not to foot the bill for Athens and said that it wasn’t besieged by calls and letters of protest.

“One or two customers called,” Tompkins said, “and that was even after the Olympics started.”

Tompkins confirmed that his company had an ongoing conversation with one subscriber, presumably Myers, in recent weeks.

Within minutes of Tompkins’ conversation with the Sun Journal on Wednesday morning, another Oxford Networks representative phoned Myers at work to inform him that a contract was on the table.

“They told me (the deal) is about 90 percent done.” Myers said. “That sounds great to me.”

Tompkins said that the time of year was an overriding factor in Oxford Networks’ decision to buy the full Olympic package.

Maine and New Hampshire traditionally have a higher number of Olympic athletes in winter than summer. Tompkins added that while even ardent sports enthusiasts tend to bask in the summer sun, just as many viewers are housebound in February.

“On a day like today,” Tompkins said as driving rain and gusty winds echoed outside his office, “we all want to be inside watching TV.”

NBC’s asking price also was more agreeable this time, Tompkins added. And the impending contract is a package deal, meaning that Oxford Networks subscribers would have full access to the 2008 Summer Games.


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