Foxtel readies for high-def Olympics

Pay TV operator sharing with Nine for Vancouver Games

SYDNEY -- Aussie paynet Foxtel will provide Australian TV viewers with four channels of live, high-definition coverage of the Vancouver Winter Olympics in February, CEO Kim Williams said Tuesday.

Foxtel will provide Australian TV viewers with the most comprehensive coverage of any Olympic Games on the company's pay and interactive TV, mobile phone and broadband platforms.

Launching Foxtel's coverage on World Olympics Day, the groundbreaking digital coverage will be a test bed for the paynet's 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games and 2012 London Summer Olympics broadcasts, Williams said.

"We've only just begun," he said.

Foxtel is committing to air every Australian athlete competing live, as well as all gold medal events as they happen at the Vancouver games, counting more than 340 hours of live coverage and 1,600 total hours of coverage, compared with only 10 hours live coverage and 100 hours total coverage of the 2006 Torino Olympic Winter games broadcast by the Seven Network, according to Williams.

Foxtel won the pay TV, mobile and Internet Olympics rights for 2010 and 2012 with a reported $100 million joint bid with the Nine Network, wresting the world's biggest sporting event away from longtime Olympics broadcaster the Seven Network.

The Foxtel bid was the first time the IOC had ever dealt directly with a pay broadcaster. Deals with Sky Italia and Sky New Zealand followed suit, according to Williams.

Under its rights deal, Foxtel gets live, simultaneous rights to all Olympic events except the opening and closing ceremonies, for which it has replay rights.

While Australia is not a traditional Winter Games country, Australian athletes are getting more competitive at winter sports. Much of the live coverage will air in Australia between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m. local time.

Foxtel will charge its 1.6 million subscribers an extra AUS$50 ($40) for early bird purchasers of its Olympics tier. It has also signed an agreement with regional pay TV operator Austar, which will provide the service to its 700,000 subscribers. Together they count penetration of around 30% of Australia's 7.5 million TV households.

The four high-definition Olympics channels, named after the four Canadian venues, will be simulcast in standard definition for those pay TV subscribers that don't have a high-definition set-top box.

Foxtel and Austar will use the Olympics to drive further penetration of its pay TV services, which are amongst the lowest of any English-speaking market, as well as upselling their high-definition services. It will come just four months after Foxtel launches up to 20 new standard and high-definition channels.

The Nine Network has yet to reveal details of how it will cover the Games.