BBC Faces Increased TV Rights Competition for Future Olympics

Olympic Games

Bids will be opened Friday, with observers saying pay TV platforms could join the auction this time around.

LONDON - Ahead of its coverage of the London 2012 Summer Olympics here, U.K. public broadcaster BBC faces increased competition for the TV rights for future Games.

Bids for them by U.K. parties must be sent to the International Olympic Committee, which is set to open envelopes with bids on Friday. The IOC could choose an auction winner immediately or kick off a second round of bidding.

The Guardian on Wednesday cited Jacques Rogge, the president of the IOC, as saying that "everything is possible" when it comes to the TV rights for Games after London. That could mean that the BBC could lose some or all of its coverage of the Games in the future.

So far, U.K. Olympics broadcasting rights have been protected by legislation that guarantees free TV coverage of major sporting events. But the Guardian said that the IOC has confirmed that a British pay TV player, such as BSkyB or a telecom giant BT, which recently split up the rights for the English Premier League for a three-year period, could submit a bid. That could happen in expectation of a government rule review later this year.

Alternatively, a pay TV firm could acquire the Olympics rights and then sub-lease some of them back to a broadcaster, according to the paper. Pay TV firms could also theoretically launch a free-to-air TV channel.

The Guardian said that the IOC has sent Olympics rights paperwork at least to the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, which is airing the Paralympics later this summer, as well as BSkyB and BT.

The Guardian cited sources as saying that the Olympics would in the U.K. remain on a list of at least partially protected TV rights. However, the government could reserve a certain number of hours of coverage for free-to-air TV and opening up the rest for pay TV or other platforms.

In Italy, for example, the IOC previously sold the Olympic rights to News Corp.'s Sky Italy. For the Summer Games, Italy requires that 200 hours be available on free-to-air TV, and for the Winter Games 100 hours. So, Sky Italia teamed up with public broadcaster RAI.

"We just launched a tender, because this is an obligation by the EU," Rogge told the Guardian. "It is open to everyone – to public companies, private companies, free-to-air, satellite, mobile, even the possibility to sell them to an agent company that buys the rights and sells them on."

The IOC used to have a $700 million pan-European deal with the European Broadcasting Union, through which the BBC held the rights for the 2010 Vancouver Games and London 2012.

Since then, many European rights went to sports agency Sportfive, with six big markets - Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey and the U.K. - reserved for direct negotiations. Except for the U.K., all markets have struck rights deals.

The IOC's TV rights tender document call for bids for at least the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2016 Olympics in Rio, but there is also an option to add the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the 2020 Olympics.


Twitter: @georgszalai