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London to Athens: A race for broadcast rights

09-August-2004
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London to Athens: A race for broadcast rights

When Olympics was televised for the first time during the 1936 Berlin Games, nobody had heard of broadcast rights! Sixty-eight years later, when the Games go back to where it had all begun, Athens, the total Olympic broadcast revenue is pegged at $1.5 billion. While Athens Olympics will be telecast live across the world in over 200 countries, the concept of ‘live telecast’ took off in Rome during the 1960 Games. All this is part of a study conducted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), ahead of the Athens Games. History of Olympics broadcasting is a significant chunk in the IOC study.

Among the landmarks in the history of Olympics broadcasting is 1948 London Games. It was the first Olympic Games to establish the principle of the broadcast rights fee. “BBC agreed to pay 1000 guineas (around $3000) as the telecast rights fee. But, concerned about the financial hardship to BBC, the organising committee refused to accept the payment,” according to the IOC spokesperson. In 1960, when the Games were televised live for the first time, they reached 18 European countries. The TV viewers in the US, Canada and Japan got to watch the Games hours later. India also finds mention in the history listings—for the first time, 100 million viewers in India received free-to-air coverage during the 2002 Salt Lake winter games.

Yet another milestone was the first live broadcast in colour, during the 1968 Mexico City Games. The business potential of TV rights reached a new high during the 1992 Barcelona Games. “For the first time in the Olympic broadcast history, a multi-tier television structure was operated in several countries,” the analysis points out. Then, it was in 2000 Sydney Games, that the IOC introduced total viewer hours (TVH), a new method of measuring the Olympic TV audience levels.

As for the history of telecast rights fees, consider this. For the US audience, ABC paid $25 million for the 1976 Montreal Games and NBC acquired the Athens rights for $793 million, the highest so far. For Asia, Asian Broadcasting Union paid $2.2 million during the 1992 Barcelona Games, and now $14.5 million for Athens Olympics. In Europe, the rights fee paid by EBU has increased from $700,000 for 1960 Rome Games, to $394 million for Athens Olympics.

Olympics broadcasting is significant not just because billions of TV viewers experience the Games right in their drawing rooms, but also because it helps the main actors (read athletes) in a big way. The revenue generated, from worldwide TV rights to Olympic Games, is shared by the National Olympic Committees (over 200) around the world. India, too, gets its share from the TV rights pie.

Currently, beneficiaries of the IOC Solidarity Fund in India include medal contender Anju George, shooters Abhinav Bindra and Anjali Bhagwat, weightlifter Karnam Malleswari.

“India has been given about Rs 1.5 crore from the IOC Solidarity Fund to prepare for the Athens Games,” according to International Olympic Association (IOA) president Suresh Kalmadi.

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