NBC and the International Olympic Committee are inviting sports fans to play a game of make believe.

For the duration of the upcoming Olympic games in Sydney, we're all supposed to plug our ears, cover our eyes and pretend the Internet doesn't exist.

Sure, it sounds a little silly. But it might be the best way to enjoy the preprocessed package of Olympic tidbits NBC will be serving up each night in prime time about 15 hours after the events actually happen.

Even though the morning papers will be printing the results of races to be shown that same night, NBC and the IOC figure we'll still watch. That is, as long as that darned Internet doesn't mess things up.

The IOC has refused to grant credentials to reporters from the Web's most-popular sports sites. And while the group contends NBC doesn't yet own the right to exclusive Web-casts of the games, it has forbidden anyone else from posting video or audio clips of the events.

If this sounds a little ridiculous, well, it is. In this age of instant information, the IOC and NBC are trying to smuggle sounds and images of the games past a worldwide network that's perfectly designed to distribute such data.

Making it pay

Their motive is understandable: to bleed as much cash as possible out of their lucrative broadcast contracts. But their methods won't prevent the Net from eating into TV ratings, and both NBC and the IOC would be better off figuring out how to work with the Net instead of fighting against it.

NBC paid about $700 million for the right to broadcast this year's Olympics in the United States. It hopes to recoup more than $900 million in advertising revenues, just a bit more than CBS probably made for the last episode of "Survivor."

Unlike that show, however, nobody's worried about leaking the results before the broadcast. Indeed, thousands of Web sites will rely on wire copy and reports filed by print and TV affiliates to break news about the games as they happen.

Olympic fans in the United States will have a hard time waiting for NBC's broadcast when the results are just a click away. And if Americans don't win, they might not tune in later that night for a show that labors to build suspense for a day-old event.

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