SBJ/20080623/This Week's News

NBC keeps firm grip on trials media

NBC Sports has developed aggressive restrictions for outside media seeking to distribute online audio and video collected at U.S. Olympic trials events, furthering an industrywide battle over content rights in digital media and possibly forecasting further tension during the Beijing Olympics in August.

Credentialing rules issued through several national governing bodies for upcoming Olympic trials require that all audio and video files contain a link back to nbcolympics.com. The rules also heavily restrict all forms of multimedia in and around the fields of play, including athlete interviews, and require that all audio and video be removed from media sites by Aug. 7, the day before the start of the Beijing Olympics. Text-based blogging is permitted under the new provisions.

The rules will affect news coverage at three of the summer’s biggest trials: swimming, gymnastics, and track and field.

“This is the first Olympic trials where new media has been relevant,” said Jill Geer, USA Track & Field’s director of communications. “Everybody’s trying to figure it out.”

NBC executives declined to comment, saying only that a different set of regulations will be issued in early July governing the use of online audio and video during the Summer Games by those who are not rights holders. Unconfirmed industry chatter among media outlets is that NBC will seek heavy embargoes on content emanating from Bejiing through other outlets.

The rules for the trials clearly signal the lengths to which NBC appears willing to go to protect its investment in the 2008 Olympics, which cost more than $800 million in rights fees, and drive traffic to nbcolympics.com.

Other media outlets, however, see the move as an unnecessary trampling on editorial material that often is designed for far more dedicated fan followings than NBC’s more mainstream audience.

Media outlets like Swimming World say
they may have to change their coverage.

“This could completely change our approach to covering this event,” said Brent Rutemiller, publisher of Swimming World magazine, of the coming USA Swimming trials, set for June 29-July 6 in Omaha, Neb. The 48-year-old print title in recent years has morphed into a multimedia offering that includes a daily video show online.

“We have this long history, a lot of deep relationships with the individual swimmers and coaches,” Rutemiller said, “and now I have serious questions about whether it’s even worth it to spend the kind of money, time and effort we were going to spend to create content with such a short shelf life.”

The Olympic debate follows similar episodes in the last year in both football and baseball. The NFL limits outlets that are not rights holders to 45 seconds per day of online multimedia content involving team personnel at team facilities. MLB earlier this year amended its credentialing guidelines to include delineated limits on video, audio and photo galleries posted online. The limits were later relaxed considerably.

While NBC Sports has pursued some online ventures during the last few Olympics, the Beijing Games mark its first truly substantial push into online video coverage of the Olympics. The network plans to stream 3,000 hours of live video online from Beijing, with the broadband reach through nbcolympics.com expanded through mobile platforms and a content syndication deal with MSN.com. Much of the content will be live game action that never before has been distributed online.

In Athens four years ago and Turin two years ago, streaming Olympic content consisted mainly of limited amounts of off-field features and interviews. Since then, broadband Internet has become far more ubiquitous and streaming video technologies have improved greatly.

Paul Ziert, publisher of International Gymnast, said his organization didn’t plan to post any audio or video from last weekend’s gymnastics trials but that the restrictions still concern him.

“If you’re doing a personal interview, you should be able to use that wherever and whenever you want to,” Ziert said. “It does seem strange that they have to pull the strings that tight.”

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