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HBO Lands Obama Inaugural Rights

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NEW YORK HBO will kick off coverage of Inauguration Week with an exclusive Sunday, Jan. 18, telecast of the star-studded opening ceremony, two days before the saturation coverage of President Barack Obama's inauguration begins in earnest.

In 1993, HBO paid $1.5 million to the Presidential Inaugural Committee to exclusively televise Bill Clinton's kickoff from the Lincoln Memorial, something that annoyed non-HBO subscribers who weren't able to watch the concert by Bob Dylan and Diana Ross.

This time around, HBO -- which has been awarded the rights for an undisclosed sum -- is planning to offer the event free to cable and satellite subscribers, regardless of whether they have the pay channel or not. The entertainment lineup for the event, which may also be streamed, hasn't yet been announced, but both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are scheduled to attend.

"[HBO's] proven track record as a leader in television will help ensure an event that reflects President-elect Obama's commitment to holding an inauguration that is open, accessible and reflects America's spirit of unity," inaugural committee executive director Emmett S. Beliveau said.

While they won't be televising that Sunday afternoon event live, the other networks -- including all the broadcast and cable news channels as well as TV One -- are rolling out extensive coverage of the Jan. 20 inauguration and the events preceding it. Plans include a full-court press of the top anchors and correspondents, Web streaming of events and, in some cases, extensive radio. All three broadcast nets will feature an hour of prime time as well, capping several days of heavy coverage.

"It's more of an inaugural week than Inauguration Day," ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos said Tuesday.

In prime time, CBS anchor Katie Couric will anchor a one-hour special at 9 p.m. about the first hours of the Obama administration. NBC and ABC will have their own hour-long specials at 10 p.m. For its part, NBC hasn't aired an hour-long inauguration special since 1993 when Clinton was inaugurated.

That's one of the last times in recent memory that there has been such a changing of the guard at the White House. In 1997 and 2005, it was the beginning of the second term of a sitting president. In 2000, because of the lengthy court battle over the results, there wasn't as much time to plan the pomp and circumstance.

"It's going to be an incredibly historic day in our country's history," CBS News president Sean McManus said.

The networks saw intense interest in the presidential campaign and election that has, for the most part, carried through to the transition. CBS, for instance, logged its highest ratings in two decades for its 60 Minutes sit-down with the President-elect and Michelle Obama.

Stephanopoulos, who will co-anchor along with Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer -- the same ABC team that anchored throughout the primaries, convention and election night -- said this inauguration is unusual in many respects.

"Here you've got the drama of the changing of the guard combined with a barrier-breaking president and the biggest challenge the country has ever faced probably since FDR was inaugurated," Stephanopoulos said.

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