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The Big Debate: Olympic Vision

Has the Olympic Movement sold its own public short by signing up with Eurosport?

In June, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) revealed all television and multi-platform broadcast rights in Europe for the four Olympic Games in the 2018–2024 period would go to Discovery Communications, the parent company of Eurosport.

A pan-European deal with a paytelevision operator is a first for the Olympic Movement, having turned down a $2bn offer for the rights to the three Games from 2004 to 2008 from 21st Century Fox, then known as News Corp.

While some quarters praised the agreement as a sign the Olympic Movement was finally maximising the value of its rights, others claimed it was prioritising financial security over the best interests of its own fans.

The IOC pledges to bring its events to the “widest possible audience”, but the critics cannot see how that is possible if they take its rights away from free-to-air broadcasters and onto a pay-television supplier.

Eurosport are committed to providing a minimum of 200 hours coverage for a summer Games and 100 hours for a winter Olympics. It is not yet known exactly what Discovery’s role in the proposed Olympic channel will be.

The decision to cooperate on the Olympic channel is a clever move from Discovery. If a third-party had taken the channel it could have been a natural competitor to Eurosport.

The channel was one of the key pledges by Thomas Bach in his IOC presidency campaign. The IOC does not see the channel as a linear broadcast channel, but more of a digital channel that would integrate social media.

While the IOC and Eurosport are arguably the winners of the deal, one of the losers is the EBU (European Broadcasting Union). This €1.3bn deal sees the consortium of public-service broadcasters, cut out again.

Unsurprisingly, EBU members have reacted negatively to the news. Jan de Jong, chief executive of Dutch public-service broadcaster and EBU member NOS, has criticised the award of the rights to Discovery, telling TV Sports Markets in an interview last month:

“The IOC has in the past expressed that the Olympics must be seen by as many people as possible. That policy seems to have been abandoned. They have chosen the money.”

We asked four Olympic media experts what they thought:

Michael Payne, former IOC marketing director

NO…Not at all. In my view the IOC deal with Eurosport will lead to a dramatic growth in coverage and viewership for the Olympics.

It has the potential to be a real game-changer for all Olympic sport in between the Games, and for the development of IOC President Bach’s vision for an Olympic Channel.

I negotiated the last major European Olympic rights deal, to be held by EBU for the 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games. Already then the EBU was struggling to keep its membership together and present a coherent case. The relationship with Italian broadcaster Rai had become so dysfunctional, that they were no longer in a position to bid with EBU. Four years later, the IOC struggled to get a pan-European solution, ending up concluding unilateral deals with the five major markets and an agency deal with Sportfive. The results in terms of coverage and promotion were decidedly mixed. 

Now viewers are going to get the best of all worlds

As the IOC looked at its options for 2018 and beyond, it needed to find a partner that could pay a fair market value, but more importantly provide an ongoing 365-day promotion for Olympic sport, and a partner to help launch the Olympic channel.

In an ever more multi-dimensional and complicated media market, the Olympics can only grow, and gain new audiences with ongoing support and promotion. People forget that when Eurosport had the Olympic rights up until 2012 – they were one of the most pioneering and innovative broadcasters, providing far broader coverage than most traditional national broadcasters.

Now viewers are going to get the best of all worlds. The IOC, Eurosport and Discovery have all made it clear that they will sublicense rights to ensure the widest possible audience. The IOC has long been the only major sports organisation that has protected the right of the ‘free-to-view principle’, long before politicians waded in with listed event legislation.

Stefan Kuerten, sport and business director, EBU Eurovisio

MAYBE…It is a high risk strategy that the IOC is taking now. They have moved away from a concept where they had guaranteed free-to-air broadcast hours, allowing a maximum of coverage for the public, as well as ensuring the best events of highest interest were shown to the relevant audiences.

Whether these criteria are going to be fulfilled in the future critically depends on two things: the limitations to 200 hours for summer Games and 100 hours for winter Olympics coverage is clearly a reduction, there is no disputing that.Secondly, which is even more important – what is going to be offered from the new partner to the free-to-air broadcasters?

For a pay-television broadcaster it is critical to differentiate your content from any other platform in order to convince viewers to pay for your product.

Crucially, the control over the volume and quality of broadcast has been put in the hands of others

So the crucial question is what will be the driver for programming decisions, the reach of a maximum audience or logic of a pay-operator to keep valuable content?

Who takes that decision?

In any case to have opened up for these options, is already a change of concept; the control over the volume and programming of the free-to-air coverage throughout Europe has been put in the hands of a single entity, a broadcast group.

As I see it, the IOC is willing to take a risk. Whether they “have betrayed their own public” as the question was given, at the moment it is a maybe but it could very well become a “yes” in the future.

As free-to-air public service broadcasters, we look at the market value of an event, while others look at what the event adds to their market value.

Timo Lumme, managing director, IOC Television and Marketing Services

NO… That’s the simple answer. The agreement is great news for Olympic fans across Europe. It means there will be more coverage on more platforms than ever before.

Firstly, to address the question of free television coverage – the agreement includes a guarantee to broadcast the Olympic Games on free-to-air television across Europe.

This guarantee – 200 hours of the summer Games in each country – is similar to what is currently broadcast on free-to-air. It is the equivalent of over 10 hours of coverage a day, and includes “high viewer interest events”, such as the opening and closing ceremonies, the men’s 100-metre athletics final, or any medal round in which a competitor representing the particular country is participating.

This is fantastic news for the Olympic sports that deserve more exposure outside Games time

The Olympic Games is a “listed event” in most European countries, meaning that, by law, they must be shown on free-to-air television. And whatever changes to legislation there may be in the coming years, the IOC still includes its own free-to-air television guarantees.

Secondly, this agreement will mean there will be more coverage on more platforms, including online and mobile, than ever before. In total, the IOC produces over 3,500 hours (equivalent to over 145 days) of coverage of each edition of the Olympic Games; and it is simply not possible to put all of this on free-to-air television during the period of the Games.

This partnership will take Olympic broadcasting to a new level in Europe. This is fantastic news for the Olympic sports that deserve more exposure outside Games time, and great for fans of those sports who want to be able to follow them. This financial support is critical for many Olympic sports.

Peter Hutton, CEO, Eurosport

NO…At the heart of this deal is the commitment to reach more sports fans on more screens across Europe than ever before, and we have the means to do that through free-to-air, pay-television, online and mobile platforms.

Discovery has more channels in more countries than any other media company. This will allow us to not only bring the Olympic Games to more people, but also build and maintain interest in Olympic sports and stories to keep the Olympic flame burning all year round, including in non-Olympic years.

We strongly believe the Olympic Movement has the perfect partners in Discovery and Eurosport.

At Eurosport, we are proud to be able to say that nearly half of our existing programming schedule is already comprised of the very sports that feature in both the summer and winter Olympics, which gives us a seamless, consistent and compelling story to tell.

We fully intend to form strategic partnerships with a wide range of broadcasters to continue that legacy

This unparalleled coverage of Olympic sports reaches over 130 million households in 20 languages across 54 countries in Europe and it is great that the European public will be able to follow their local heroes as they train and compete in the championships and leagues leading up to the pinnacle event, the Olympic Games.

Of course, we understand the impressive legacy of Olympic programming across Europe and have great respect for the quality of content produced by the major public broadcasters. We fully intend to form strategic partnerships with a wide range of broadcasters to continue that legacy and deliver the minimum 200 free-to-air hours for the summer Olympics and 100 free-to-air hours for the winter Olympic Games.

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