Written by Sport

Do We Need an Olympic TV Channel?

It’s a bit of a moot question, because the IOC has just voted to launch one at the 127th IOC session taking place today and tomorrow in Monaco.

The full description of the recommendation was as follows:

“The IOC to launch an Olympic Channel.”

Umm. OK.

Given that a large part of how the IOC generates revenue is selling TV rights to the Olympic Games, we can be pretty certain that live coverage of the actual summer and winter games is not going to be what this channel does. NBC, for example, has the rights to all the Olympics between now and 2032, paying an astronomical $7.75bn for the privilege.

Leaving aside the serious question of how TV is going to be broadcast in 2032, and whether linear channels with millions of viewers is how we’ll be watching, the scale of that deal makes clear the revenue implications of broadcast.

So you can be certain that an Olympic Channel will do nothing to damage those rights. That means that basically the channel won’t be able to broadcast any actual games’ coverage during the games themselves.

Each edition of the Games lasts for 17 days, just about five weeks in total every four year cycle. That leaves a lot of time when the Olympics aren’t on. And that means many many hours to fill on an Olympic channel.

Assuming that the channel isn’t just going to be filling the airtime with reheated old competitions that are of minimal interest (one off documentaries, yes; continuous re-runs of Atlanta 1996, no), what are they going to fill all that airtime with?

According to The Guardian’s Owen Gibson who is at the session:

I can’t wait for all of that to be added to my channel supplier. And is this going to be free, or are people going to be expected to pay to watch it?

I suppose the channel could show Olympic sports that don’t get much coverage outside of the Games. Except that some of those sports are pretty popular in some parts of the world – handball for example. And while fencing or modern pentathlon may not bring in big TV revenues anywhere, I’m not certain that they’ll bring in big audiences either.

My fear is that the channel could end up like Sky Sports F1. When the BBC let Sky enter the fray (to save itself some money), Sky threw the kitchen sink at Bernie Ecclestone. It would get a whole channel. Each weekend’s racing would be fully covered live, and with extensive highlights. There’d be lots of options on the red button.

But not even football gets its own channel, and that’s on nearly year round, with many hours of games a week – far more than F1 can offer. F1 has around 19/20 weekends a year, which means the channel has a lot of time to re-air old races, have a few talk shows, but generally fill itself with lots of repeats. And now there are a few months until the start of the next season, there’s really nothing new to show at all. They should have called the channel Sky Sports Motorsport, and included some more events to bulk out the channel offering.

Now if Sky Sports F1 is a bit of a waste of a space on the EPG (original programming could easily sit on the existing five channels, with red button and on demand programming used as and when), I can’t begin to think what a waste of space an Olympics channel might be.

Endless slightly dull interviews with Olympians in their training regimes? A detailed look at how London has evolved Stratford post games? I suspect we won’t be getting the inside story on German TV’s allegations about Russian sport, or looks at the working conditions taking place in potential bid nations (yes – I’m talking about Doha).

It does sound like the IOC is cleaning up its act – certainly when put alongside FIFA. But a channel with nothing of interest to show is just a waste of money.