The Salt Lake Scramble: Online Coverage of the Olympic Games

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It's How You Play The Game
When asked where the technology for limiting online content distribution by region currently stands, Mr. Powell responded, "There are mechanisms available today which would permit localized 'e-viewing' of the games. Equally, we have technologies and search abilities to identify regional distribution of e-broadcast. In simplistic terms, each computer online has an IP address which is resolvable to a geographic location—while the consumer use of proxies can complicate things a little, the greatest part of all Internet users will, for the foreseeable future, be rapidly identifiable by location. The problem of online rights is more one of negotiation of rights between all the prospective parties rather than lack of technology."

The near-term future of Olympic coverage would seem to be bright, then, were it not for NBC's broadcast rights, which extend through the Beijing Games of 2008. On the other hand, NBC's relationship with Microsoft, through MSNBC, might be the model for future multi-rights deals to bridge this conflict with its combination of platforms and media properties. Indeed, the IOC has indicated it may seek to renegotiate the terms of its current broadcast contracts to include broadcaster-approved (read: broadcaster paid-for) Internet strategies, if the broadcast interests are amenable. Meaning, if NBC is willing to fork over more cash for the online rights, it will be in first position to stream video of Olympic events online, provided it can limit distribution to approved territories.

But for now at least, the bottom line is the bottom line. There is simply not enough revenue to be earned from online rights to put the IOC in a position to force the matter with television broadcasters. Yet with posterity frowning on Avery Brundage's proclamation that the Olympics would do just as well without television, IOC officials have expressed a desire not to take a similarly foolish stance over the Internet. Still, in effect, the IOC's message now is, "We in the IOC have done well without the Internet for 100 years and will continue to do so at least until the NBC contract runs out."

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