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Olympic Vision

With wheels on President Bach’s proposed Olympic Channel now fully in motion, Timo Lumme, managing director of TV and marketing at the IOC (International Olympic Committee), tells Owen Evans how it will operate.

A do-it-yourself digital channel is set to cast a spotlight over the darkest parts of the Olympic Movement.

As part of president Thomas Bach’s Olympic Agenda 2020 blueprint, the IOC media platform would help its sports gain greater exposure between the summer and winter Olympic Games, and also to maximise the use of thousands of hours of archive footage in the IOC’s vaults. The final approval will be given by the IOC’s Extraordinary Session on December 8-9, 2014 in Monaco.

Between now and then, the operations teams at the Olympic HQ is Lausanne are formulating a plan to create the channel and securing its distribution, using the advice of the IOC’s broadcast and sponsor partners.

The IOC’s broadcast chief Timo Lumme says a feasibility report was given the green light by heads of organisations such as ANOC (the association of national Olympic committees) and ASOIF (the association of summer Olympic international federations) at an Olympic Summit in Lausanne in July.

“The issues and challenges with this are like anything. On the political side you have to get the support, and evidence of that support,” Lumme told SportBusiness International. “It will be the General Assembly or the Session of the IOC that ultimately make that decision in December.

“I’m concentrating on the operational side, and without it being an actual business plan, at this stage I am looking at the sort of questions that would be considered in a business plan: what is it going to be? What is it going to look like? How much is it going to cost? How is it going to be marketed? How is it going to be distributed?

“The proposition is that it will be a global, digital internet channel. If you look at it from a programming perspective, we’ll look to leverage and exploit the archives that the IOC has. The Olympic archives contain almost 40,000 hours of footage and we’ll try to present that in a dynamic way.

“We’ll also try to add value to our international federations’ sports offerings – some of them obtain very good coverage for their sports properties, most notably for their world championship competitions, while others have more of a struggle. It could be that some federations could benefit from distribution in markets that they find hard to penetrate.

“We will also look to add value – and this is part of the ongoing conversation – by giving exposure to their sports through formats like magazine shows, but that has media rights issues. This will sit under an Olympic umbrella.”

Friend Not Foe

Some observers have suggested the new Olympic Channel could be used by the IOC to broadcast its own events and therefore as a competitive alternative to broadcast platforms it already works with.

However, according to Lumme, the new channel would not only act as a complementary rather than competitive service to existing media partners such as NBC in the United States, but would also help to strengthen existing partnerships.

We will not be in the
business of bidding for media rights…rather we are looking
to create a broadcast
model that will add value for our broadcast partners.

If the launch is successful, the IOC’s intention is to form region-specific blueprints to enhance the Olympic presence on a territorial basis.

“First things first, the Olympic Channel is not going to compete in any way. We are not going to hold back any rights from the broadcast rights or tender negotiations that we do,” adds Lumme. “You won’t see us cutting off parts from broadcast packages for us to keep at the Olympic Channel.

“It’s also not going to follow the model of some of the professional league and college channels in the US. It’s about adding value, and specifically adding value in the intervening period between each Olympic Games.

“That can happen on two levels. As an international or global channel that will have some impact, and a secondary conversation down the line will be for us to speak with our broadcast partners about doing something more enhanced.

“We will not be in the business of bidding for media rights, but rather we are looking into creating a broadcast model that would add value. Of course this also applies to the national Olympic committees and representative bodies’ pan-regional competitions and their own sports properties. We will be looking to take those out of their particular borders and give them a broader exposure.”

Olympic Discovery

Lumme says that the first phase of the channel could be launched in time for Rio 2016 if the vote – as expected – goes positively in Monaco this winter. As far as the format goes, the general perception is that the IOC would follow the lead of the National Geographic Channel, which is available in around 85 million households worldwide. But what does that mean exactly? 

“As far as I understand it, the National Geographic format is a pay-channel, so I’m not sure from a distributional basis we would look towards a pay market, just because it would run counter to the general philosophy of the Olympic Games’ broadcasting strategy. The objective is to have as many people watch the Games as possible,” says Lumme.

“That being said, the comparison with National Geographic could be a little more to do with overall positioning of the channel. In any given market there are many, many channels catering to the sports that have mass appeal in that particular market. We are keenly aware that we cannot become the next big sports channel that is trying to muscle its way into what is a very crowded area.


Frank Dunne
Editor, TV Sports Markets

Part of the magic – and hence the commercial value – of the Olympic Games lie in their rarity. The flip side for the IOC is that the Olympic brand is, to a large extent, dormant in the four years between each summer Games or each winter Games.

Creating a free digital channel is a logical way to address that. The IOC will have been encouraged by its distribution deal with YouTube for the 2012 Olympics, which delivered some phenomenal numbers across Asia and elsewhere.

That, however, was for live and on-demand coverage. Initially, it looks as though the IOC’s Olympic Channel will be largely based on archive footage. There is a place for that, but archive content alone will not deliver big audiences.

The question is what the IOC can build around that. If it is mostly content from national federations or Olympic committees that are not getting sufficient exposure elsewhere, the impact will be limited because mainstream media companies have already decided that this type of content will not deliver them audiences on a national level.

Getting hold of more compelling content, whether live or in magazine format, will also require some complex negotiations if the IOC wants to avoid undermining the value of broadcast rights n

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