Murdoch's media group wins 2014, 2016 Olympic TV rights in Turkey

LONDON -- Rupert Murdoch's media group secured its third Olympic deal this year in Europe and soon could challenge for the most lucrative prize of all -- the U.S. broadcast rights.

The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday awarded the Turkish rights to the 2014 and 2016 games to Fox Turkey, part of the Fox entertainment network owned by Murdoch.

It is the IOC's third Olympic deal with a Murdoch channel in Europe, and second this month. On Oct. 21, SKY Italia was awarded the 2014 and 2016 rights in Italy, following the contract announced in February for the 2010 and 2012 games.

Fox Turkey will provide coverage on free-to-air television, pay channels, and through the Internet and mobile phones.

It's the first time a private television channel in Turkey has been awarded Olympic broadcast rights, which have previously gone to state-run channel TRT.

Turkey is the second country, along with Italy, to break from the European Broadcasting Union to negotiate separate Olympic broadcast deals. Others could follow suit.

The value of the contract was not disclosed. It covers the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the 2016 Summer Olympics. The 2016 host city will be chosen next October. The finalists are Chicago; Tokyo; Madrid, Spain; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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.

Murdoch's Fox network is a likely bidder for the 2014 and 2016 rights in the United States. NBC, which got huge ratings for its coverage of the Beijing Games, holds the U.S. rights through the 2012 London Olympics.

"We feel that Murdoch is really interested and he wants to do something with the IOC, and so we feel his interest is positive," Gerhard Heiberg, head of the IOC marketing commission, told The Associated Press. "We have spoken to him. We hope he will develop this interest. He may be a major player at this stage."

In 2003, NBC beat out Fox and ESPN/ABC to secure the rights to the 2010 Winter Games, later awarded to Vancouver, and 2012 Olympics in a $2.2 billion deal. Fox reportedly bid $1.3 billion, while ESPN/ABC proposed a revenue sharing plan.

In 1995, NBC obtained the rights to five Olympics from 2000 to 2008 in a pair of deals worth a total of $3.5 billion.

The IOC said earlier this year it would open the U.S. negotiations soon after the Beijing Games. In the current economic climate, however, the talks could be put off.

"We are not under any pressure," Heiberg said. "We are talking about 2014 and '16. There is more than enough time. After the success of Beijing, several players are interested in talking to us. We are not in a hurray. They are not in a hurry."

Many IOC members would like a deal completed before the 2016 host city selection. Otherwise, the vote could be influenced by consideration of which city would appeal most to broadcasters.

But senior Canadian member Dick Pound, the former leader of IOC's TV negotiations, questioned whether the U.S. networks will want to bid now.

"For an American market, the games in Sochi are going to be very unattractive," he said in an interview, referring to the eight-hour time difference between Russia and the U.S. East Coast. "Much depends on where the 2016 games go. I don't know what kind of appetite the American broadcasters are likely to have before next year."

Pound said he had opposed bidding overtures from Fox during the mid-1990s on grounds that the network had not established itself as a nationwide programmer, but that times have changed.

"You can certainly say that all the objections I had to them at the time have now been put to rest," he said. "I think they demonstrated that they can certainly put on sports programming and have a nationwide reach. You have to say they are a player."