Olympic piracy predictions wrong

'Historic' IOC deal allows viewers to find legit videos

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LONDON -- Doomsayers predicted it would be the Olympics of piracy.

But instead, law-abiding consumers are turning on to Internet video on PCs -- and even on mobile phones -- in unprecedented numbers as the maturity of Web television coincides with one of the most highly anticipated Summer Olympics ever.

With free Olympics video in abundance on the Internet, viewers have little incentive to seek out grainy pirated images.

Even viewers in such countries as Iraq and Afghanistan, where there are no national broadcasters posting Olympics video on the Web, can watch official clips on YouTube under a first-of-its-kind deal with the International Olympic Committee.

"We look at the deal as historic, at least for YouTube," said a spokesman for the three-year-old video-sharing phenomenon owned by Google, which did not yet exist at the last Summer Olympics.

In Britain, the BBC's live video service has attracted record interest, with 3 million page impressions on the middle Saturday when U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps won his seventh gold and British swimmer Rebecca Adlington won her second.

"It's obviously been really popular due to the success of Team GB. I've been watching at work on the iPlayer," said Paul, a 40-year-old London investment banker, referring to the BBC's popular Internet catch-up service.

Broadcasting giants such as the BBC or NBC, the rights-holder for the U.S., have a number of popular properties on the Internet and have played a big role in moving viewers online.

Nearly 10 million viewers have watched more than 6 million hours or more than 56 million online videos of its NBC's Olympics coverage so far, 20 times as many as were accessed during the entire Athens 2004 Olympics, according to NBC.

Ben Wood, research director at Britain-based CCS Insight, said the explosion in demand has been helped by an enlightened IOC view of how the Internet is changing viewing patterns, in contrast to that of other sports bodies such as Formula One.

"The IOC has taken a more liberal approach, allowing reuse on the Internet," he said.

An IOC spokesman said the Olympic Charter compels the organization to ensure the widest possible audience and that digital media is increasingly important to reach that goal.

For these Games, digital rights were mainly awarded to broadcasters as part of larger TV broadcast rights deals, and accounted for a tiny proportion of the $1.7 billion the IOC estimates it will make in broadcast rights for Beijing.

For future Olympics, the IOC will award rights in different ways to account for the increased importance of digital media.

But finding the right partners and price is difficult -- the IOC has already completed deals for the 2010 and 2012 Games, and is currently trying to figure out how people may be watching the Olympics in 2014 or 2016 as it negotiates those agreements.

For Beijing, it awarded a few Web-only licenses, including to state broadcaster CCTV's Internet arm, CCTV.com, and for upcoming games, phone companies will also join the party -- though the mobile TV market is still in its infancy.

In China, where traffic on leading Web properties Sina Corp and Sohu.com Inc has leapt during the Olympics -- partly thanks to celebrity blogs by athletes -- mobile TV is already starting to attract viewers.

China Mobile, the world's largest mobile group by subscribers, said this week 1 million viewers had watched more than 300,000 hours of the Olympic mobile TV programs it is showing under an agreement with CCTV.

That number is just a small fraction of China Mobile's more than 600 million subscribers, and there is little evidence that mobile TV is making much headway elsewhere, outside the established markets of South Korea and Japan.

NBC said in the first week of the games it was registering about half a million people a day requesting Olympic content over their phones, a small number, though it noted that many were accessing content in this way for the first time.

"I'm still a great believer in TV on mobile phones, because everybody gets it, everybody loves TV, but it hasn't really happened," CCS Insight's Wood said.

Gary McFarlane, a 37-year-old with his own software company in London, said he tried accessing Olympics coverage from a couple of sources on his Nokia N95 smart phone.

"It didn't work," he said. "I got my laptop out instead."
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