B'casters on their own after IOC deal fails

No group deal in Europe for rights to 2016 Olympics

LONDON -- Europe's state broadcasters were mulling the outcome of the European Broadcasting Union's failure to net a group deal to secure rights to the 2016 Olympics Thursday, conceding that they will now face a national "free-for-all" to secure the rights.

The collapse of EBU's Europe-wide offer to the International Olympic Committee on Thursday means that broadcasters in each member country will have to bid for the rights.

Germany's public broadcasters ARD and ZDF, together the largest contributors to the EBU, said they were shocked by the IOC's decision.

ARD program director Volker Herres called the IOC's revenue expectations for the Olympic rights "exorbitant," a sentiment echoed by ZDF boss Nikolaus Brender, who said it was "highly doubtful" the IOC would be able to get more money through individual deals across Europe.

It is uncertain whether the IOC could get any deal at all in Germany without ARD and ZDF on board.

Big commercial channels RTL and Sat.1 could bid for the rights. But Sat.1 is in the middle of a major restructuring and has already blown most of its sports budget on top European soccer tournaments the UEFA Cup and Champions League.

An RTL spokesman told The Hollywood Reporter that the channel would, in principle, be interested in broadcasting the Olympics, "but it's nowhere near the top of our agenda."

In the U.K. the BBC has held the rights to Olympics for nearly 50 years and the tournament is protected by legislation that says it must be aired on a free-to-air broadcast, which can be seen by 95% of the population.

Traditionally this has meant either the BBC or ITV, but by the time the 2014 Winter Olympics and 2016 Summer Games roll around the U.K. will have switched off the analog signal, and any one of the U.K.'s free-to-air channels could potentially snap up the rights.

The pubcaster was keeping its cool Thursday, pointing out that rival ITV could have bid at other times for the Games and that few broadcasters could leverage the airtime, multiplatform and online resources of the BBC.

"What it really means is that we will negotiate directly with the IOC instead of going through the EBU," a spokeswoman for the BBC said.

"It's a massive commitment in terms of airtime, and the production isn't cheap either. The BBC is lucky in that as it is a public service provider it can invest in sport in this way."
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