Olympic broadcast row opens the way for Sky

Talks between the International Olympic Committee and the European Broadcasting Union over the rights to cover the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the as-yet-to-be-awarded 2016 Summer Olympics, broke down tonight, the broadcasters accusing the Olympic chiefs of “high financial expectations”.

“As far as we are concerned the bid has been rejected and so we are out of the game. Our offer was the maximum we could pay,” a EBU spokeswoman said.

The IOC will now negotiate with individual European broadcasters separately, including the self-proclaimed “Olympics Broadcaster”, the BBC, and pan-European channel Eurosport.

It could open the way for ITV or satellite broadcaster BSkyB to step in to the Olympic arena – Rupert Murdoch-owned channels in Italy and Turkey have already negotiated rights with national terrestrial channels for 2014 and 2016.

The IOC clearly believes that on the open market throughout Europe, Olympic rights could generate significantly more revenue.

The BBC, which has televised every Olympic Games since 1948, has negotiated as part of the 120-member EBU cartel for Olympic rights. The EBU paid £297 million to show the Beijing Games and £90.4m for the 2006 Winter Games in Turin. NBC is paying £465m for the rights to broadcast the 2010 and 2012 Olympics in the United States alone.

EBU issued a statement tonight in which its president, Fritz Pleitgen, said: “We have worked with the IOC since 1956 to deliver the Olympic Games to the broadest possible audience, and ensured maximum exposure of the Olympic Games, and also Olympic sports between the Games.

“We note that there are different views about the future monetary broadcast value of the Games. EBU Members were surprised by the high financial expectations of the IOC.

“We regret that, it seems, little account is taken of the additional high level of investment by the EBU in rights for, and the production and quality editorial coverage of world, European and national Championships, across many Olympic Sports.”

The IOC has clearly been encouraged by the interest of other broadcasters in other territories: Disney-owned sports cable channel ESPN and ABC have both expressed interest in bidding for Olympic rights after 2012, while Murdoch broadcasters’ deals in Italy and Turkey have demonstrated the possibilities of satellite-terrestrial deals that could satisfy legal requirements in countries, including the UK, where some sporting events such as the Olympics have to be shown free-to-air.

“We look forward to negotiating with the IOC in the future,” said a BBC spokeswoman.

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