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Volume 21 No. 1


The International Olympic Committee could launch a digital, Olympic network as early as next year.

The organization has completed a feasibility study for an over-the-top channel that would be available in more than 200 markets. If the project is approved by the IOC members at the organization’s general assembly this December, then the organization will push ahead and invest more than $100 million to create a channel that provides a mixture of on-demand and live programming of Olympic sports.

“If the decision is made to go ahead, we would say that this is an investment by the Olympic movement to achieve … continuous exposure of sport and, more generally, raise the profile of the Olympic brand and Olympic values,” said Timo Lumme, managing director of IOC TV and marketing services.

IOC President Thomas Bach has championed the creation of an Olympic network.
The IOC is the latest in a series of sports and entertainment properties like the WWE and NFL that are looking to create a digital channel similar to the on-demand offerings provided by Netflix, Hulu and others. Rather than securing distribution and subscription fees from cable distributors, those channels are streamed directly to consumers through applications on tablets, TVs and devices like Apple TV or Amazon Fire (see related story).

IOC President Thomas Bach championed the creation of an Olympic network during his campaign to succeed Jacques Rogge as the organization’s leader. He believes the channel could be a vehicle to promote Olympic sports in the years between Games and expose younger people to those sports and the Olympics.

Lumme said the IOC would make the initial investment in starting the channel. The organization recently secured a $100 million signing bonus from Olympic rights holder NBC “to be used for the promotion of Olympism and the Olympic values between 2015 and 2020.” It said it hasn’t decided how to use that money yet, but it could be used to help underwrite the startup costs for the channel.

The organization has more than 40,000 hours of archival Olympic footage it can use to program the channel. It would use that footage to develop shoulder programming such as athlete profiles and features on moments in Olympic history. It also would provide the channel as an outlet for international sports federations interested in offering live coverage of their world championships and other events.

Timo Lumme: “We’re looking at our options and have an eye on the final milestone in  December.”
“We’re not going to be in the business of bidding for rights, however there will be opportunities where an Olympic channel may be able to add value to an [international federation’s] events by producing some coverage — magazine coverage or coverage of events in parts of the world they’re having trouble penetrating,” Lumme said. “It wouldn’t be a pure sports channel. There are plenty of pure sports channels, especially in a market like the U.S. The positioning has to be about what Olympism is. It’s sports. It’s education. It’s kids. It’s history. There’s a rich seam of different types of things it can be, and that’s what makes us convinced it can be a success.”

The focus on the channel initially will be on building an asset, not generating revenue, Lumme said. Eventually, he said the IOC will look for corporate partners to sponsor programming and broadcast partners to buy some of the feature programming to air on their linear networks. It also will consider securing traditional distribution from cable and satellite operators for the linear version of the OTT channel in select markets such as the U.S., where there was an effort to launch an Olympic network in the past.

In 2009, Comcast agreed to partner with the U.S. Olympic Committee to launch and distribute an Olympic network. That project, which was supported by Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, was abandoned weeks after it was announced when the IOC and NBC raised concerns about it.

Comcast subsequently acquired NBC-Universal, and Roberts has played a critical role in increasing the combined companies’ stake in the Olympics. He recently helped negotiate a $7.65 billion deal that gives NBC the U.S. rights to the Olympics through 2032.

An NBC spokesman said that the company is following the IOC’s proposed Olympic network “with interest.”

Lumme said that the IOC will spend the next six months briefing national Olympic committees and international federations on the potential channel. He expects to begin speaking more in depth about the potential project with global broadcast partners and worldwide sponsors if the IOC’s membership approves the project in December.

“This is all in development,” he said. “We’re looking at our options and have an eye on the final milestone in December. [The concept is] not hugely revolutionary but is reflective of the broadcast market.”

NBC Sports this week will roll out its most extensive two-year-out campaign for an Olympic Games.

The group will air 15- and 30-second spots on Tuesday, two years ahead of the opening day of the 2016 Rio Games. The spots, which were still being developed last week, are designed to remind viewers of “the spirit, excitement and drama of the Olympics,” said John Miller, NBC Sports Group’s chief marketer.

Commercials will air between 7 p.m. and midnight on NBC, NBC Sports Network and NBC’s regional sports networks. A special spot reminding viewers that golf returns to the Olympics in 2016 will air on Golf Channel.

NBC Sports will complement the linear advertisements with a video narrated by Bob Costas on It also put a custom countdown image on NBC Olympics’ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus platforms.

“This is the first time we’ve utilized our full platform to signify the Olympics are two years away,” Miller said. “It’s a simple message … to remind people it’s two years away.”

NBC earlier this year signed a $7.75 billion deal with the International Olympic Committee to broadcast the Olympics through 2032. The company will spend $1.22 billion in rights fees on the Rio Games.

Miller acknowledged the two-year-out promotions were small and compared them to an anniversary card a husband gives his wife.

“It’s not a huge thing, but you want to be sure you do it,” Miller said. “I don’t expect the American public to mark their calendar, but by the same token, to celebrate two years out, internally and externally, seemed like a good thing.”

NBC Sports typically waits until a year before an Olympics to start promoting coverage and athletes. Miller said that it will wait until August of next year before it rolls out additional spots about Rio 2016. Those spots will be designed to raise viewer awareness about athletes, sports and stories NBC will likely tell during the Rio Games.

“We use a motto: Make them care,” Miller said. “Make them care about athletes. Make them care about the message of the Olympics. The idea of the campaign is to make [viewers] care.”

The U.S. Olympic Committee also is planning to make a promotional push this week. Unlike NBC, its efforts are focused on public relations and social media.

The organization will have feature stories about potential 2016 Olympians on It also will direct people to those stories on social media by using a special hashtag (#roadtorio). The USOC previously used a “Road to Sochi” slogan to promote athletes and events leading up to the most recent Olympics.

“We’re turning the light on [our Olympics promotion] a little earlier in hopes we can get more interest in all the sports and not just the ones they’re used to during the Olympics time,” said Patrick Sandusky, USOC chief communications officer.

Both Miller and Sandusky said that high viewership of the World Cup in the U.S. influenced their decisions to begin promotions for the 2016 Rio Games earlier than previous Olympics. The World Cup final, which drew more than 20 million viewers in the U.S., was played in Rio and featured images of the city’s famed Christ the Redeemer statue at sunset.

“People have positive feelings about the World Cup,” Miller said. “It’s not a bad thing to take advantage of those positive feelings.”