Saturday, January 8, 2011

Let the Olympic TV sweepstakes begin

Do not adjust the vertical hold or horizontal hold. But you might have to adjust the channel that provides Olympic broadcasts if you're in the United States. NBC has competition and the next deal the IOC makes could be for as many as four Games.

The International Olympic Committee's executive board meets Jan. 12 and 13 at the five-ring headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, so it's no surprise that talk about future TV contracts has heated up.

The most important source of TV revenue is the United States market. NBC bought a $2.2 billion package for Vancouver 2010 and London 2012. Negotiations for renewal were delayed for a year because of the Great Recession. ESPN and Fox are kicking tires. CBS and Turner may also join the mix. The broadcasters are interested, however, in buying "bulk" four-Games packages. That would include the 2018 Winter Games, which will happen in South Korea or Europe, and the 2010 Summer Games, even though bidding has yet to begin.

A key sticking point is whether National Hockey League players will be released from their clubs for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. Broadcasters are preparing two sets of bids, one with a pro hockey tournament, the other without. One source told me that NBC Olympics boss Dick Ebersol is already bearish on Sochi -- regardless of the hockey tournament's composition and despite the fact there are peacocks there. Asked in a meeting what he thought Sochi was worth to NBC, Ebersol picked up a pen and scribbled on a pad of paper. He then held it up to reveal a big "0".

NBC lost $233 million on the Vancouver Games because of the recessionary advertising slump. The outcome of CTV-Rogers' sales in Canada remains a closely guarded secret. Spokeswoman Andrea Goldstein said it wouldn't be known until after London 2012. (Andrea's department is one of the most prolific press release producers anywhere in Canada and I know that if the numbers were favorable, she would have issued a news release far and wide by now.)

In February 2005, the Canadian consortium offered the IOC $90 million for Vancouver 2010 and $63 million for London 2012. Runner-up CBC paid $73 million for Turin 2006 and Beijing 2008 combined. CTV Olympics president Keith Pelley, now the boss of Rogers Media, said before the Vancouver Games that the goal was to break-even.

Rene Fasel, the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation and perhaps the most powerful IOC member on the winter sports side, met in Buffalo on Jan. 4 at the World Junior Hockey Championship with Donald Fehr, the former Major League Baseball Players Union boss who now runs the NHL Players Association.

Pros have participated since Nagano 1998 and Fasel wants to keep it that way. Fasel told media in Buffalo that he is against an under-20 tournament at the Olympics. Olympic soccer tournaments are an under-23 format with a quota of over-age players to add star power.

* * * * *
The 2010 Winter Olympics were one of the most-covered topics on U.S. nightly newscasts in 2010, mainly because of NBC.

The Tyndall Report Year in Review 2010 said the Vancouver Winter Olympics got 119 minutes on nightly newscasts for the big three networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. That made it the 13th biggest story of the year.

It got more minutes than Christmas holiday season (114), tax cuts from Bush era extended (108), Times Square car bomb (104) and illegal immigration crackdown (100). NYSE-NASDAQ market action got just one more minute of play, while the 2010 House races (127) and Chile copper mine rescue (142) were next up the list.

The big reason was NBC's 84 minutes devoted to Vancouver, making it the Peacock network's fifth most covered story. It got three minutes more than Healthcare reform legislation and 25 minutes more than unemployment stuck near 10%.

"For the first time since 2001, the Islamic World was not the focus of foreign coverage. Instead, attention turned to the Americas--the Port-au-Prince earthquake, the Chile mine rescue, NBC’s usual shameless shilling for the Olympics in Vancouver," said the Tyndall Report. "The narco-violence in Mexico should have made hemisphere coverage even heavier but ABC (8 min v NBC 33, CBS 21) fell down on the job."

Interesting how NBC reporter Dawna Friesen is now back in Canada anchoring Global News. Brian Williams is the NBC anchor, not to be confused with Brian Williams the CTV Olympics anchor. But of course, many will remember ex-NBC anchor Tom Brokaw's video essay on Canada.

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