FAQ: European Olympic Broadcast Rights

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has awarded Europe-wide broadcast rights to the Summer and Winter Olympic Games between 2018 and 2024 to Discovery Communications, which operates Eurosport and Freeview channel Quest alongside its factual channels in the UK and many other channels across Europe.

What does this mean for viewers? Read on!

Do I now have to pay to watch the Olympics?
In some European countries, coverage will be on pay TV, but in others local laws mean that there will have to be coverage on free-to-air TV. As far as the Summer Olympics are concerned, at least 200 hours of coverage will be shown free-to-air in individual European countries.

Is Rio 2016 affected?
No. You'll be able to watch the Olympics wherever you are in Europe on the usual channels. The new rights deal starts in 2018.

Is this Europe's fault?
The announcement is nothing to do with the EU or its organisations.
It is a commercial deal between the IOC and Discovery Communications and also affects non-EU countries including Belarus, Norway and Turkey.

Is this the end of the Olympics on the BBC?
The BBC may be able to acquire limited rights for the 2022 and 2024 Olympics, as Discovery Communications will sub-licence some content to other broadcasters. In a statement issued by the BBC, the broadcaster makes it clear it is hoping to continue showing some coverage in some form or other as a result of this process. See also 'What's the situation in the UK?', below.

Which countries are affected?
Bosnia and Herzegovina  
Czech Republic  
France (2022-2024 only) 
San Marino  
United Kingdom (2022-2024 only) 
Vatican City State

Who has previously held the rights to the Olympics?
In most European countries, the Olympics have been the preserve of public service broadcasters, including the BBC in the UK, RTÉ in Ireland, ARD and ZDF in Germany, NPO in the Netherlands and ORF in Austria, to name a few.

These broadcasters may be able to obtain some broadcast rights from Discovery, who will be sub-licensing 'portions' of its newly acquired rights.

Hasn't Eurosport shown the Olympics before?
Eurosport has also been the home to additional Olympic coverage over the past decades, thanks to its previous association with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), through which the public service broadcasters of Europe have collectively acquired Olympic rights in the past. Eurosport's previous majority shareholder TF1 is a member of the EBU, but Discovery - Eurosport's current owner is not.

What's the situation in the UK?
In the UK, laws currently protect the free-to-air status of the Olympics. The Ofcom list says that "full" coverage is protected, but recently "full" has been defined as 200 hours of coverage.

Unless the laws are changed in Discovery's favour by 2022, Discovery will have to offer UK coverage on a free-to-air basis. Discovery already operates Freeview channel Quest in the UK, through which it could provide coverage, although a lot can happen in seven years.

No change until after 2020 games: The BBC acquired the rights to all Summer and Winter Olympic games until and including 2020 back in 2012 - just before the London Olympics. This means that the new deal with Discovery will only affect the UK from the 2022 Winter Olympics (which have not yet been awarded to anyone).

From 2022, the BBC may have the option to carry some Olympic coverage: the IOC says Discovery will sub-licence 'a portion' of coverage to other broadcasters. But other broadcasters, such as ITV, could be interested as well.

As a side note, it will be interesting to see how Discovery and the BBC will deal with Olympics rights matters in the Netherlands, Belgium and the Republic of Ireland during the 2018 and 2020 Games, where the BBC satellite signal overspills and where local cable operators, in deals with the commercial arm of the BBC, carry BBC One and BBC Two.

Rights restrictions during the Olympics are usually quite severe and lead to black-outs on some channel feeds. In Germany, ARD and ZDF are increasingly under pressure to black-out their satellite feeds due to overspill into territories where other broadcasters, who provide coverage via pay TV, hold the rights.

At the moment the different public service broadcasters within the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) co-operate - there was even a joint EBU Olympics video-on-demand portal in 2012, but once different commercial broadcasters and sub-licensing comes into play, the situation becomes more complex regarding overspill. But the EU is looking at making online TV services freely available across Europe, but how that will affect the UK would be subject to the EU referendum outcome. Quite simply, there are too many variables to consider at the moment.

Will coverage be in HD/Ultra HD/3D? 
It's too early to comment how viewers across Europe will be able to access coverage of the Olympics via Discovery's channels. But Discovery has confirmed it will be developing an Olympic TV channel across Europe.

Will Eurosport go free-to-air?
Eurosport is free-to-air in some parts of Europe, but with a new Olympics channel in development it's too early to comment on how viewers will be able to watch the Olympics in most of Europe from 2018 and in the UK and France from 2022.

What about radio?
Radio is not part of the deal announced by the IOC and Discovery Communications.

updated: 30/06/2015

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