The news this week that the International Olympic Committee awarded the rights for the 2014-2020 games to NBC is ominous for Olympics fans. While NBC was saying all the right things (seriously, they were swayed by the passion of Bob Costas?!?), if you love the Olympics you might as well switch your service to XFinity now. Be completely assured that the winning bid from NBC has very little to do with seeing the Olympic Rings and the NBC Sports logo together and everything to do with adding premium content to other Comcast properties.
NBC Sports chief Mark Lazarus explains:
We will make every event available — on one platform or another — live,” he said. “It is for television. It is for tablet. It is for mobile. It is for broadband. It is for every now-known or to-be-known or still-to-be-conceived set of rights. It’s all encompassing.
The other bidders, Fox & ABC/ESPN had committed to broadcasting all events live, yet when you look at the bids it jumps out how much more Comcast was willing to pay. Despite a two hundred million dollar loss on the Vancouver 2010 games and projected losses on the upcoming Olympics in London next summer NBCast bid more than a billion dollars more than their competitors. When you look at the distribution portfolio of the bidders it make sense. ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, this is all basic cable stuff. The array of Fox networks fits the same mold. But Comcast is looking to get you away from that 60 inch LCD and force you to watch your favorite events on the smallest screens you own. Comcast’s cable roots mean they know well the power of owning the distribution pipeline and they won’t think twice about using the Olympics as a loss leader to get their mobile, online, tablet or ‘still to be conceived device’ based applications.
I get it, it’s basic business. DirecTV does it with the NFL Sunday Ticket, Sirius did it with Howard Stern, and your local radio station still broadcasts the home town ball games mostly in hopes you’ll still have them on when you hop in the car for the morning commute (their most valuable ad time). Normally I have no problem with that but we’re talking about the Olympics. The US has no national sport. NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NCAA, MLS, American Idol, Survivor, Bachelor, there are just too many different choices to get everyone passionate about the same thing at the same time. We will never have the unifying fervor for Hockey of Canadians or the ‘I’ll shoot anyone who scores an own goal’ mania of South American soccer fans. But the Olympics are different. For all the sappiness and blatant commercialism Americans will unite behind an Olympic success. The miracle on ice. Mary Lou Retton. Carl Lewis. The Dream Team. Michael Johnson. Shannon Miller. Michael Phelps. Shaun White. The Olympics are the one time sports in America become universal water cooler talk. But how fired up will everyone be when you have to have Xfinity for iPad or Xfinity platinum for the ‘still to be conceived’Pod™ to see the competition? And if you’re thinking “NBCast would never do that, the Olympics are sacred” just bear in mind the US is the only country in the world where events are tape delayed because the broadcaster is hoping for better ratings.
This decision for the IOC was about a paycheck. The US is the largest Olympic TV rights market and the IOC know that. But make no mistake, this deal virtually guarantees that most Americans will see less of the Olympics. It’s cash today and irrelevance tomorrow for the Olympics in America with Comcast laughing all the way to the bank.