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First major casualty in Discovery Olympic rights change

German public service broadcasters have become the first major casualty of last year's decision to award European rights to the Olympics to Discovery Communications.

The owner of Eurosport bought the Olympic TV rights for most of Europe from 2018, but has been able to agree sub-licensing deals with most of the public service broadcasters that have traditionally broadcast the Olympics in various European countries, meaning that for most viewers, they can continue watching at least some Olympic action on the same channels as before.

But Germany's ARD and ZDF have been unable to reach an agreement, with Discovery being accused of charging too much. There had been reports that Discovery was willing to reduce the price in return for other sports rights from the public broadcasters, in a move that appeared to be very similar to the BBC-Discovery Olympic deal, which saw the BBC surrender exclusive UK rights in 2018 and 2020 in return for access to the 2022 and 2024 Winter and Summer Olympics.

ARD and ZDF were prepared to pay €100 million for the 2018 and 2020 games, according to reports, but Discovery wanted €150 million. In contrast, the BBC reportedly paid £110 million to Discovery for the rights to the Olympics until 2024, but the deal also included surrendering exclusive rights for the 2018 and 2020 games that the BBC acquired in 2012.

Eurosport will carry the games free-to-air for viewers via the Astra 1 satellite and on cable, whereas other versions of the channel for other countries will be encrypted. Additional events will be shown on free-to-air DMAX Germany. But the broadcaster's HD service for Germany is only available through encrypted TV services, such as HD+ (effective 1st Dec 2016) and Sky Germany on satellite.

ARD and ZDF were the last major broadcaster in Europe that showed the Olympics free-to-air on a widebeam satellite signal, which was widely receivable across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and their stance of insisting on a widebeam free-to-air transmission has increasingly become a bone of contention with regards to sports rights, with restrictions imposed on them during the 2014 World Cup, forcing them to temporarily cease transmissions via Eutelsat Hotbird and costing them the rights to screen certain Handball tournaments. A wider satellite footprint can also increase the price of acquiring rights dramatically.

In contrast, the main UK free-to-air broadcasters have restricted their satellite coverage by using a spotbeam focused on the UK and Ireland. Countries such as France impose nominal restrictions on accessing their main channels, with satellite viewers required to use certain types of receiver with viewing card, even if the stations are free-to-view. Satellite transmissions of public broadcasters in smaller countries such as Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and The Netherlands are encrypted with access to cards typically restricted to residents of the country.