Guardian News and Media/London
The Olympics will remain on the BBC until at least 2024 after the corporation agreed a deal with the US broadcasting giant Discovery to sub-licence the rights.
Last year, the BBC lost control of the future destiny of Games coverage after Discovery won the pan-European rights from 2018 onwards, and 2022 in the UK, in a £920mn deal.
But despite wider pressure on the BBC’s budgets, it has now agreed a deal that will ensure it has live coverage of the Olympics until at least 2024 and continue an association that began with radio coverage of the 1928 Games.
In return, the BBC has agreed to grant Discovery exclusive pay TV rights to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
So while the BBC will have less extensive coverage than was the case at London 2012 it will still be able to fill up to two channels a day with live coverage and highlights - meaning it will show all the key moments, but will have less depth than previously.
Meanwhile, Discovery will market itself as the only place to watch every last moment across an array of live and on demand services.
Under current legislation, at least 200 hours of the summer Games and 100 hours of the winter Olympics are obliged to be shown on free to air TV.
Discovery looked into the possibility of launching its own free-to-air channel before entering negotiations with the BBC. It is understood that ITV also mounted a strong bid to try to sub-licence the rights. One source said there was “intense competition”.
The deal will also relieve some of the gloom surrounding the BBC’s sports portfolio, after it recently relinquished the rights to Formula One and Open golf. In November it said it would have to cut £35mn from its sports rights budget as part of a wider £150mn cost-cutting plan.
But the Olympics are seen as a key prize because of their wider importance in public service broadcasting terms.
“The BBC prides itself on bringing the biggest sporting moments to the public. For many, the BBC has been their stadium for Olympic coverage. It is an event that unites the nation like no other,” said the BBC director general Tony Hall.
“I’m delighted that through our new partnership with Discovery, the BBC will continue to carry the torch for great sporting coverage right through to the 2024 Games. While the BBC has had to take some tough financial decisions, this partnership underlines our commitment to making world class sport available to all.”
It is understood that the BBC and Discovery will share production resources and could even co-operate over sharing on-screen talent in order to keep costs down.
The 2022 Winter Olympics will be in Beijing, while Paris and Los Angeles are favourites to host the 2024 summer Games.
Discovery will continue to negotiate with free-to-air broadcasters across Europe as it decides which rights to sub-licence and which to keep for itself.
The BBC has been increasingly looking to collaborate with pay TV broadcasters to reduce the cost of its sports rights, such as the joint deal with BT Sport to show the FA Cup.
The director general recently announced that he wants partnerships to be at the heart of the BBC’s future mission, working more closely with others for the good of the nation. “That objective is as relevant to sport as it is to every other part of the BBC,” said BBC director of sport Barbara Slater in a blog on its website.
“For quite a while the BBC’s future role in covering the Olympic Games was in question; a jewel in the crown that could have disappeared from the BBC’s airwaves for four years or possibly longer. Today, that cloud of uncertainty has lifted,” she added.
“Despite the scale of the competitive and financial challenges we face, the BBC’s long-term commitment to sport could not be better demonstrated than through our holding of exclusive free-to-air rights to the next five Olympic Games.”
Discovery’s chief executive, David Zaslav, said: “This agreement is a win for UK sports fans and marks an exciting new chapter in Discovery and the BBC’s partnership on major sporting events. For 30 years, our two organisations have chartered new frontiers with co-production partnerships in factual and natural history programming. Now we join together once again to bring the most compelling stories of human ambition, sacrifice and achievement to people across the UK.”
Despite the challenges facing the Olympic movement, from concerns over the legacy of “mega events” to the cloud hanging over athletics, the IOC in 2014 signed a $7.5bn broadcasting deal in the US with NBC that runs until 2032.
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