EBU urges IOC to stick with European broadcasters

Updated: November 18, 2008, 3:01 PM ET
Associated Press

GENEVA -- The head of the European Broadcasting Union has urged the Olympic movement to renew its contract with public broadcasters and resist the riches offered by rival private networks.

European Broadcasting Union director general Jean Reveillon told an audience of Olympic sports leaders -- including International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge -- that the free-to-air channels in 56 member countries attract higher ratings and encourage a young fan base.

"It is in your interest to maintain a wide audience in order to guarantee the popularity of your sport," Reveillon said. "While our competitors are not interested in sports that are less attractive on TV, or which are not so popular, we remain the largest carrier of the entire range of Olympic sports."

Reveillon's speech, delivered Monday at the closed-door session in Lausanne, was released to news organizations Tuesday. It comes at a sensitive time in negotiations on media rights for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and the 2016 Summer Games.

The International Olympic Committee recently awarded rights in Italy and Turkey to pay-TV networks from the Rupert Murdoch-owned media group.

The stand-alone deals broke a collective agreement with the EBU, which represents 75 European broadcasters, that has survived more than four decades.

Reveillon said broadcast rights should not always go to the highest bidder.

"If you are seeking to maximize revenue, irrespective of coverage, you should think about the impact of less free-to-air exposure on the popularity of your sport," he said. "Changes may bring risks which could damage relationships with consumers, and ultimately sport."

Some federations fear that European broadcasters will be less willing to promote Olympic sports in the four years between games if they don't have the rights to the games themselves.

Reveillon said EBU members broadcast to 650 million people who could be reached with a single rights agreement.

He said public broadcasters had "brilliantly" promoted the social, educational and citizenship values of sport over many years.

The contest between traditional Olympic broadcasters and ambitious Murdoch-owned outlets could be repeated in the United States next year.

NBC, which paid $2.2 billion for rights to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and 2012 London Games, is expected to face competition from Fox, as well as the Walt Disney-owned ESPN/ABC networks, for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics.

TV rights fees -- totaling around $3 billion for a four-year cycle -- provide the bulk of the IOC's revenue. About half goes to Olympic host cities, with the rest split among the IOC, international federations and national Olympic committees.

The 2016 host city will be chosen next October. The finalists are Chicago; Tokyo; Madrid, Spain; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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