IOC to explore channel launch

Five years after shutting down an effort to launch an Olympic channel in the U.S., the International Olympic Committee is looking to launch a network of its own.

IOC President Thomas Bach received approval from IOC members during meetings at the Sochi Games to explore the viability of an Olympic channel. The IOC’s TV and marketing division and its production arm, the Olympic Broadcasting Service, will prepare a feasibility study for the IOC to evaluate at meetings in December.

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“On the one hand, you’re looking at different type of product — a traditional linear channel, digital, there’s various iterations of it — and asking, ‘What would it be?’” said Timo Lumme, the IOC’s director of TV and marketing services. “After that, you’re looking at the market side of it. What sort of penetration and what sort of audience are we looking at. And there’s a revenue side. Will this create revenue and be sustainable?”

Lumme said that the IOC won’t begin answering those questions until after the Sochi Games. Its findings and recommendations regarding a channel will be presented to the entire IOC membership for consideration at the end of the year.

The IOC’s pivot in the last five years from opposing an Olympic channel in the U.S. to exploring one reflects the change in priorities between former IOC President Jacques Rogge, whose term ended last fall, and his successor.

When the USOC’s planned Olympic channel was squashed, the IOC was preparing to negotiate its TV rights for the 2014-2020 Olympics. It also was in the middle of a heated, revenue-sharing dispute with the USOC.

Both issues have since been resolved. NBC agreed to pay $4.4 billion for the rights to the 2014-2020 Olympics, and the USOC agreed to a revenue-sharing agreement that gives the IOC a greater percentage of Olympic sponsorship and TV money.

Bach revived the idea of an Olympic channel during his campaign for presidency because he believes it can raise the profile of Olympic sports outside the 17 days of a Summer or Winter Games and help the organization reach new, young viewers.

“This is not now a question about money,” Bach said before being elected president last September. “This is a question about addressing youth. If you do not see enough Olympic sports on TV and the Internet, then these other sports will lose more and more (participants) and young athletes.”

Lumme said that the IOC also wants the channel to promote Olympic values like peace and active living.

“That’s a pretty broad canvas,” Lumme said. “My objective is to see what’s the best way to deliver against those objectives on a global basis.”

The IOC already has a YouTube channel that shows mostly highlights and archival footage of past Olympic Games. If it opts to create a digital Olympic channel, it could look to expand the on-demand offerings on YouTube. It also has two sponsors who make televisions, Panasonic and Samsung, who could pre-load their Smart TVs with an Olympic channel as an option alongside Hulu and Netflix.

In the U.S., the organization could partner with its broadcast partner, NBC, and convert Universal Sports, a channel NBC co-owns with Intermedia Partners, into an Olympic channel.

“At this stage, there’s no such thing as a bad idea,” Lumme said. “There’s not one way to achieve the objectives we’re talking about. There are lots of ways depending on the market, so I’m eager to hear NBC’s thoughts.”

USOC Chairman Larry Probst offered his support for an Olympic channel at the IOC meetings in Sochi, but he encouraged the organization to focus on digital. Probst, who’s also the chairman of Electronic Arts, reminded IOC members that young people don’t watch TV anymore.

NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus also is supportive of an Olympic network.

“I don’t think it would do any harm,” Lazarus said. “It could only help our business.”

Lumme said the IOC is talking to other international broadcasters about the channel. Though he doesn’t know when or how the IOC would move forward on a network, he did say that the focus wasn’t on creating an asset that enriches the IOC.

“This is not a college sports channel play or NFL channel play,” Lumme said. “This is about increasing the overall value proposition as part of our partnership for broadcasters, for partners, for our whole ecosystem.”

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