Comcast shakes up the race for Olympics broadcasting rights

Breaking News: On Tuesday, the FCC and the Justice Department approved Comcast’s take-over of NBC Universal from General Electric….who cares, right?

Wrong. Almost every two years since 1964, NBC’s peacock-shaped logo has remained perched in the corner of America’s television screens as Olympians defy the laws of physics above it.  NBC has dominated the broadcasting of both Summer and Winter games for decades, thanks in large part to Dick Ebersol, head of the network’s sports division. In 1995, Ebersol made some huge moves to acquire rights to all Olympics from 2000 to 2008 and later proceeded to outbid Fox for the 2010 and 2012 rights as well.  This magnificent tour de force to some (heist to others) required a massive amount of funds, granted largely due to chairmen at General Electric who had a soft spot for the Olympics and a shine for tradition.

Now the strings are being held by a new company: Comcast (also known as Xfinity, but really still known as Comcast).

What’s on the line? Rights for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia and 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. And the stakes are high, folks.

Every Olympics secures 17 straight nights of prime-time dominance.  The downside is, this security only comes every two years, unlike the weekly power of say Sunday Night Football.  Comcast’s chairman, Brian Roberts, is a Maccabiah Games medalist and attended the Games in Vancouver.  Downside: He wants to make money, and NBC actually ended up losing $223 million in Vancouver due to the recession and could lose more at London in 2012.  Comcast is a national company with domestic interests, whereas G.E. is an international company with international audiences.  The loss of the 2016 Chicago bid to Brazil will presumably weaken Comcast’s desire to have the rights, which Jacques Rogge and IOC have publicly valued at about $2.2 billion ($2.7 billion in private), the highest bid amounts ever.

The fate of the 2014 and 2016 Games media rights will be decided at an auction later this spring by the IOC through sealed bids from NBC (Comcast), ESPN, Fox Sports, and possibly CBS-Turner.  I appreciate NBC’s high standard of Olympic coverage, and I find the little peacock comforting (like Hurricane Schwartz’ bowtie during a blizzard).  Then again, change is good.



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