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Volume 20 No. 42
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IOC could launch Olympic OTT network next year

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.”