Last week, the International Olympic Committee gathered in Malaysia to vote on the host city for the 2022 Winter Games (Beijing, a city that has no snow, but that’s a story for another day). But the meeting that was officially deemed the 128th IOC Session in Kuala Lumpur also discussed one major issue that the Committee that has circulating for years, the Olympic Channel.
Sir Martin Sorrell of the global communications firm WPP gave the keynote address to the IOC telling members about the younger generation and how to reach them. Sorrell said reaching “Generation Z” was tantamount for the Olympic movement’s future. In noting that millennials are the most digital-friendly, it was important to learn about social media and the apps they’re using.
And in telling the Committee about Generation Z, Sorrell said that a year-round Olympics Channel was part of that future. Now an Olympics Channel would not replace its rightsholders such as NBC, CBC, BBC, Discovery and others, but the Committee hopes it would enhance them by airing or streaming Olympic sports in off years.
An Olympic Channel has been a project that IOC Chairman Thomas Bach has embraced and back in December, he earmarked $600 million for the creation of the network for the next seven years in hopes of getting it launched before the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil. During the IOC Session, Sorrell said an Olympic Channel has the potential to reach the younger generation as long as the Committee marries it with social media and other platforms:
“You need to evolve to new consumption behaviours in both younger demographics and in fast-growth markets, more online and more mobile,” he said. “The challenge will be to deliver a solution that reaches this new audience, linking to platforms they are already engaged with and extending the window of the Games outside the two- or four-year period. You have to get more continuity into the offer. The world is ready for a mobile first social content platform united under a powerful purpose that resonates with people around the world. And the IOC has the potential to create just that.”
Both NBC and new European rightsholder Discovery have pledged that they will help in providing the infrastructure needed to launch an Olympic Channel and keep it going. Part of that will be deciding whether it will be strictly on television or an over the top platform and it appears it will begin as an online venture where millennials are watching videos.
Another issue is events rights and in the United States, many Olympic sports such as alpine skiing, figure skating, track and field and swimming are aired on beIN Sport or Universal Sports. Either NBC which has a partial ownership stake in Universal can buy it outright to make it into the Olympic Channel in the U.S., or the Olympic Channel will have to compete with Universal for events. And the individual sports federations will want to know how they will share the money from the IOC once the channel begins operation.
But for now, we do know that the Olympic Channel is not just in the planning stage, but becoming reality. With a base in Madrid, Spain and a technical staff of about 100, the channel will get ready to go online. The content is a question, but the IOC is confident that its new online venture will be a success with viewers.
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