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There's a high cost-and potentially high profit-for the players in the O.J. Simpson multimedia circus.

As the football Hall of Famer's preliminary hearing on murder charges began last week, broadcast networks and their affiliates chose to forfeit hundreds of thousands of dollars in ad revenue to televise extended portions. Los Angeles TV stations were prepared to broadcast the June 30 hearing without commercial breaks. Network affiliates reportedly stood to lose $200,000 apiece for going 8 hours without ads.

Initially, the Big 3 networks were primed to go spot-less during their first day of coverage and thereby lose a combined $4.5 million in ad revenue. Instead, they aired the proceedings with sporadic ad breaks, with regular spots running during news reports broadcast when the hearing was in recess. Mr. Simpson is charged with murder in the June 12 deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. The pre-trial hearing will determine whether there's sufficient evidence to try Mr. Simpson on the charges.

The hearing could last a week or stretch into a month, depending on how vigorously the defense challenges the prosecution.

For networks, their affiliates and independent stations, covering the Simpson soap opera has allowed for chest-beating about their news departments' abilities and crowing over high ratings.

But following this juicy story has been costly. An NBC executive said the network had to offer extensive make-goods to advertisers in the June 17 broadcast of game five of the NBA finals, interrupted by Mr. Simpson and a friend's meandering through southern California in a white Bronco before he surrendered.

Cable's Court TV plans gavel-to-gavel coverage of the pre-trial proceedings and the trial if one is held. The network denied reports several advertisers pulled out because of the case's sensational nature.

This is a critical time for Court TV. The network recently qualified for measurement by Nielsen Media Research and is bucking for credibility; barring that, it wants to be considered in advertisers' upfront media buying plans. In other Simpson media news:

St. Martin's Press, New York, this week is rolling out the first quickie book about the case, titled "Fallen Hero: The Shocking True Story Behind the O.J. Simpson Tragedy." Orders have exceeded 500,000, making "Fallen Hero" St. Martin's best-selling "True Crime" series book ever, topping "The Milwaukee Murders" about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Subsequent printings of the book will include chapters on the court proceedings. There are no ad plans.

Coverage of the proceedings is truly multimedia: The Bureau of Electronic Publishing next month will release a CD-ROM chronicling the former football star's rise and fall, and will also present evidence in the case. Orders for the $24.95 product have so far exceed 15,000. An ad effort is forthcoming.

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