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After EBU’s Rights Failure, What Will 2016 Olympics Look Like Online?

imageThe BBC wants the 2012 London Olympics to be a watershed moment in the country’s shift from analogue or TV set-based viewing to digital. That could well be the case: by then the country’s analogue signal will have been switched off and figures released today for the iPlayer, more than one million views a day in November, show it is fast approaching mainstream status. During the Beijing games this year, the iPlayer got 8.5 million unique users a week and 36 million video views for the fortnight.

But the BBC may not now win the rights to the 2014 Winter Olympics the 2016 Summer Games after the International Olympic Committee turned down the European Broadcasting Union’s usually successful bid on behalf of 75 public service broadcasters as too low. Now broadcasters will have to bid for rights individually, meaning commercial players like BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) or ITV (LSE: ITV) could be in the running for the first time in 50 years. What could it mean… ? More after the jump…

Photo Credit: striatic

A Murdoch Olympics? As IHT.com points out, News Corp-owned Sky Italia has already negotiated a commercial deal to show the Games from 2010 to 2016, while another Murdoch property, Fox Turkey, has bought the rights from 2014 to 2016. Although IOC rules state that the games must be free-to-air and available to at least 95 percent of the population, the presence of advertisers on commercial channels could lead to scheduling difficulties: US sports fans complained when NBC broadcast Beijing footage at prime-time instead of showing it live to maximise advertising revenue and failed to put clips online.

Fragmented rights?: One possible scenario would see the IOC auction broadband and TV rights separately, as many other sporting contests do. Right now, the BBC is allowed to marry both media, resulting in some extremely popular web video streams from Beijing. But offering, say, the web rights to someone like Sky Sports would offer a messier, more fragmented experience to watchers.

More coverage from more media?: AP president Tom Curley has argued for less restriction from the IOC on who can bring video cameras into Olympic stadia. As part of the US deal, only was licensed for video to and Curley has threatened a lawsuit if that doesn’t change.

Would UK commercial broadcasters, as the BBC does, put all content online live or, like NBC, would they hold back for the currently more lucrative prime-time TV slots? If the motivation for digital innovation is commercial and not public service, the viewer experience in future could be very different thanks to this week’s ruling. The BBC’s head of new media and future technology Erik Huggers has spoken of making the Beeb more of a platform for third-party content and plans to show more UGC and even rivals’ coverage of the games in 2012. That broadcaster-as-platform idea could also be under threat if an advertising-driven rival were to win out in the bidding and decide that such a scheme was unprofitable.

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