Olympic Channel Is Set To Launch in 2017 With NBCU, IOC, USOC Joining Forces on the Effort
The IOC launched Olympic Channel last summer as a broadband and mobile distribution platform, but a deal announced today with NBCUniversal will officially make the Olympic Channel a TV channel: a new network will be launched in the U.S. during the second half of 2017.
“This is an exciting day for NBCUniversal and the Olympic movement in the U.S.,” says NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel. “It is a continuation and validation of the strength of our long-term partnership that we have had for decades. We are now going to make a rich bundle of great sports content available around the calendar.”
According to Olympic Channel GM Mark Parkman, it is an evolutionary product and a step well worth pursuing for the growth of the Olympic movement: “We believe this will help the Olympic movement substantially.” (For more on the launch of the channel and our two-part interview with Parkman, click here and here.)
Besides the channel, additional coverage of Olympic sports programs will appear exclusively on other NBCU platforms, including NBC, NBCSN, and NBC Sports Digital outlets. The first such coverage begins Saturday Dec. 17 with the Team USA Winter Champions Series.
“We are currently producing 250 hours of original programming a year from our headquarters in Madrid, and we have contracted with 50 different production companies [around the globe],” says Parkman. “We have a very ambitious plan from a content perspective.”
The collaborative programming will emphasize live coverage of a broad range of summer and winter Olympic sports. It will also include Olympic-themed original content produced by all three parties: original programs produced by filmmakers from around the world commissioned by the global Olympic Channel, rich archival footage from the IOC and NBCU’s library of Olympic features and documentaries, and original Team USA programming contributed by the USOC.
Olympic Channel will continue to exist as an online entity in the U.S. with U.S.-specific content most likely debuting first on the linear channel before being available at the Olympic Channel website. The website will also continue to offer a wealth of content from around the globe as part of its efforts to expose athletes, events, and competitions to new audiences.
The only distribution deal that has been struck has been with DirecTV and AT&T and was completed last summer. Future deals, Zenkel says, will hinge on the natural cycle of renewing carriage deals for the NBCUniversal package of networks.
“We’re optimistic contributors will want this content and want to bring it to their audiences,” he adds.
According to Zenkel, the IOC’s commitment to produce original content (approximately 250 hours a year) was attractive to NBCUniversal. Conversations following the 2015 announcement of the channel’s launch led to further conversations about the commitment to create more content and, ultimately, launch a new network.
“It will be Team USA-focused and a very rich offering,” he notes.
The operation of the network will be based in Stamford, CT, and in Denver, where about 30 people are currently producing a lot of Olympic sports coverage.
NBC Olympics Executive Producer Jim Bell points out that the Olympic movement is already the biggest on the planet and that the network is a great way to grow the movement even more. “We have some new real estate to spread the gospel outside of two weeks every two years, and that is great news for the athletes.”
The new channel won’t mean that the amount of Olympic qualifying coverage will be cut back on NBC and the NBC Sports Network, Zenkel says. “We see a tremendous opportunity with a third linear distribution channel to extend distribution.”
Following the launch of the global digital product and in partnership with rights-holding broadcast partners and National Olympic Committees, Olympic Channel is developing localized versions, which will offer region- and language-specific user experiences on linear and digital platforms in certain territories, leading to more-personalized experiences for Olympic fans around the world.