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NBC owns the Olympic games

August 25, 2004

There has been a lot of talk online about NBC’s coverage (or lack thereof) of the 2004 Olympic games in Greece. You see, NBC paid $793 million for the rights to broadcast the Olympics; in fact they are the only U.S media outlet allowed to do so. Of course, since Greece is located on the other side of the pond, showing the games live doesn’t fit in nicely with prime time U.S television. NBC’s quick ‘fix’ to this problem was to delay broadcasts of the Olympics so they did fit nicely into the profitable prime time slots.

Now let’s stop right there and take a look at this picture. The Olympics are a worldwide event, with a great many nations participating. There are millions of people in the United States, and I would be willing to bet at least one person for every nation participating in the Olympic games. Not every person may be terribly interested in watching the games, many others are and show interest in all sporting events from Table Tennis to Judo. And now consider this: one media company controls the exclusive rights to broadcast ALL of the Olympic games. NBC as a whole may have a number of Television channels, but not everyone has full fledged digital cable or satellite and may be settling for the broadcast NBC network. Therefore, a person with access to only one NBC channel (myself included here) has for his viewing pleasure, the option of watching a very narrow range of sporting events from the Olympics broadcast way after the events have actually happened. But it gets better.

We now have this wonderful thing called the World Wide Web. And, as its name implies, gives its users access to content from all around the world. Theoretically, this could give an American access to a wealth of content about the Olympics than they would get from only watching NBC. It does in fact do this, but only in a limited form. The BBC has been serving up live simulcast coverage of the games to its British viewers since the games began. And since BBC.com is on the World Wide Web, one would assume an American would be able to access its content and watch the Olympics live, something which NBC is not offering. Yet you would be oh so wrong. Read this quote by an NBC spokeswoman (from this Wired article

“NBC, the European Broadcasting Union and the International Olympic Committee discussed methods available to confine the distribution of content to geographically defined territories,” said NBC spokeswoman Cameron Blanchard. “The IOC does not permit the games to be broadcast on Internet video by anyone, but the rights holders and their distribution is confined to their broadcast territory.”

Isn’t this just fabulous? The Olympic games (or the right to view them), which has participants from countries all over the globe, are auctioned off to the highest bidder, partitioned off into geographical regions, all for the monetary benefit of the highest bidder. Sure, web video of the games could increase viewership and interest in the games. And maybe the option to watch the games in the U.S from (gasp) more than one network would be loved by many a sporting fan. But if that happened, how would NBC recoup its $793 million investment? How would NBC make its millions from broadcasting rights if I could change the channel, or watch live coverage on the interent? This, my friends, is a perfect example of how media consolidation is very, very good for the big media companies, and very, very bad for the average consumer. One media source = one choice for consumers, which = more money for the media outlet, but means a narrower view for the average joe.