Where will the Olympics appear on TV from 2022? The race is wide open...

Discovery, not the IOC, gets to decide who shows the Olympics
The chief creative officer of Discovery has said ITV or Channel 4 could take the free-to-air rights to the 2022 and 2024 Olympics, breaking the BBC's dominance of the sport.

Phil Craig said, according to reports: “You would think that the BBC would be competing for that but they may not necessarily get it. It could be ITV or Channel 4.”

Some reports are now spinning this to say that the BBC will lose the rights.

However, there's not much actual news in those reports: it's always been clear that since the BBC lost exclusive control of the Olympics in June it would have to fend off competition from the other main broadcasters: under the rules governing protected sports on free-to-air television, BBC One, BBC Two, ITV (STV/UTV), Channel 4 and Channel 5 are all eligible to show those sporting events on the protected list, including the Summer and Winter Olympics.

While Ofcom documentation says that eligible broadcasters must provide "full live coverage" of the Olympics free-to-air, it is understood that "full live coverage" in an era of multiple digital channels, red button services and online streams is 200 hours.

The BBC still has a slight advantage:  it can split coverage over two channels, potentially allowing both BBC One and BBC Two to show coverage at different times or to cover different events at the same time. ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5's offshoot channels are currently not eligible to show protected sports events, so under current rules, ITV, Channel 4 or 5 would have to contain the 200 hours coverage on their primary channel. But ITV's recent promotion of sports-biased ITV4 to a Freeview multiplex covering over 98% of the UK, putting its coverage on a par with the main ITV channel for the first time, could provide a valid reason for the current list of eligible channels to be reviewed.

Under the current rules, Discovery's Freeview channel Quest does not qualify for live coverage of the Olympics, as it only reaches around 90% of households, although it could provide supplementary coverage, therefore Discovery has to sub-licence coverage to other broadcasters. 

Earlier this summer, Discovery acquired the pan-European rights for the Olympics from 2018 to 2024 and has said that it will sub-licence coverage to free-to-air broadcasters to meet local rules on protected sports events. Discovery owns Eurosport, which is where the bulk of coverage is likely to be located in the future, but Discovery also wants to launch a dedicated Olympics channel.

Unlike most of the rest of Europe, Discovery won't get full control of the Olympics until 2022. The BBC still has the rights for UK coverage of the Olympics until and including 2020: it snapped up the rights until the end of the decade just before the 2012 London Olympics.

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  1. They'll be hoping for someone other than the BBC to bid as that is where they'll make the money, not through advertising and subscriptions of their own. The BBC need to push hard though for more than the bare minimum 100/200 hours, which only fills the terrestrial channels. They might not need or want live coverage of everything but the Olympics is a protected event and IMO that should mean any session including a British athlete or team, plus any medal event, should be available FTA.


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