It’s rare to see a TV network disappear with less than a month’s warning, but that’s what’s apparently happening with Universal Sports. The channel, which is 92 per cent owned by InterMedia Partners and 8 per cent owned by NBC, was founded in 2006 and has largely focused on airing Olympic sports in the periods between the Olympic Games. It seems the plans to launch a forthcoming global Olympic channel in partnership with the IOC may have precipitated its demise. According to a report from John Ourand and Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal, Universal Sports will be shutting down next month, parting ways with its 75 employees and transferring its remaining sports rights to NBC:
The Universal Sports TV channel is shutting down next month after nearly a decade in operation. NBC execs told the channel’s approximately 75 employees during an early morning meeting in L.A. today. The channel, which is majority owned by InterMedia Partners, notified distributors that its signal would be taken down Nov. 16. NBC, which holds a minority stake in the channel, will pick up the channel’s portfolio of Olympic sports rights.
The decision to shutter Universal altogether was described as “shocking” by one source. It is unclear how NBC will use those rights on its existing channels, like NBCSN. NBC Sports Group emailed a statement saying, “We are thrilled to be finalizing an agreement with Universal Sports that will provide NBCUniversal and NBC Sports with an impressive collection of media rights to some of the world’s most prestigious sporting events. We will have more information regarding our plans when the transaction closes in November.”
While it may be “shocking” to see the course here change so rapidly, the move towards that aforementioned Olympic Channel could be a contributing factor. The channel has been a priority for IOC president Thomas Bach, and the goal has been to get it launched before the Rio 2016 Summer Games. It’s notable that other Olympic news Tuesday saw Canadian broadcaster CBC extend its Olympic rights through 2024 (with partners Bell and Rogers Media involved as well), and that release had “CBC/Radio-Canada will also be a broadcast partner, from 2016 until at least 2023, for the IOC’s new global digital Olympic Channel. The pubcaster will offer Canadian sports programming to support the channel’s focus on the Olympic movement between games.”
If that Olympic Channel (whether it’s digital-only or with a TV presence as well isn’t really known yet, and it may differ between countries) is going to launch soon, it makes sense that NBC would be involved stateside, as they have rights to the Olympic Games themselves through 2032. Perhaps they felt the need to shut down Universal to regain those rights for the new venture. Or perhaps they felt this new channel would make Universal redundant, or perhaps they want to put more Olympic sports (between Games) on NBC and NBCSN. This will be a story to watch, but what is clear is that this shutdown is happening, and it’s happening with a lot of haste. It will be interesting to find out just what caused it.