The BBC is facing the prospect of losing some or all of its coverage of the Olympics from 2022 after broadcaster Eurosport and parent company Discovery secured a €1.3 billion (£920 million) rights deal.
The BBC had 2,500 hours of live coverage from the London 2012 Games and 650 hours from the Sochi Winter Olympics last year, but the days of its wall-to-wall coverage could be numbered.
Eurosport should clarify its plans as a matter of urgency
Chris Bryant, MP
Eurosport has committed to broadcasting only 200 hours of summer Olympics and 100 hours of winter Games on free-to-air television and says in many territories it will sub-license these back to a terrestrial broadcaster – possibly, but not necessarily, the BBC.
Announcing the new TV deal, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said: “This is a significant agreement for Discovery and the IOC, and we are excited to have Eurosport, the pan-European home of Olympic sports, as a partner.
“This agreement ensures comprehensive coverage of the Olympic Games across Europe, including the guarantee to provide extensive free-to-air television coverage in all territories.
“The revenue generated from this long-term partnership will be redistributed by the IOC across the Olympic movement to support the development of sport around the world.”
The Olympics is a “listed event” and has to be on free-to-air TV but that does not include digital or mobile coverage. It might be that Eurosport sub-licenses highlights to the BBC or Channel 4 but keeps all the other media rights for itself – and it does have its own Freeview channels.
The BBC said it would seek talks with Discovery about acquiring the free-to-air rights.
A BBC statement said: “The Olympic Games remains a priority for the BBC and we have already secured the TV, radio and online rights to the next three Olympic Games – 2016, 2018 and 2020.
“More than 90 per cent of the UK population watched the BBC’s coverage of London 2012 and it remains one of the most popular free-to-air sporting events for UK viewers.
“It is not unprecedented for sports rights to be sold on a pan-territory basis and the BBC has acquired other sports rights via sub-licensing deals with either agencies or broadcasters.
“We will be seeking further discussions with Discovery about the UK free-to-air rights to the 2022 and 2024 Olympic Games in due course.”
Mr Bach added that there was “ample time” for the BBC to negotiate a sub-licensing deal.
He said: “In Great Britain you have the situation that the BBC has the rights so there is ample time before 2022 and 2024 to have discussions with Discovery about co-operation.”
Chris Bryant MP, Labour’s shadow culture, media and sport secretary, said the government should keep the Olympics free for viewers to watch.
He said: “Nine out of ten of us watched the Olympics on the BBC but this development need not mean that the Games are lost to the BBC. As things stand, they are protected as ‘listed’ events with an absolute guarantee that they will be on free-to-air channels so with the government’s support they could still show the games in 2022.
“The government needs to make it clear that it has no intention of dropping the Games from the protected events A list – and Eurosport should clarify its plans for UK coverage as a matter of urgency.”