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NBC secures Olympic Games broadcast rights until 2020

NBC's new owner, Comcast Corp., forked over $4.38-billion (U.S.) for the right to broadcast the next four Olympic Games.

Elise Amendola/Elise Amendola/AP

For more than a decade, NBC has spent billions for the right to be "America's Olympic Network." This week, the U.S. network won its bid to hold on to that title until 2020.

NBC's new owner, Comcast Corp., forked over $4.38-billion (U.S.) for the right to broadcast the next four Olympic Games, starting with Sochi, Russia, in 2014. The network has held the U.S. broadcast rights for every Olympics since 2000, and on Wednesday will shift its focus back to preparations for coverage of the Summer Games in London next summer.

The deal includes the right for NBC to spread that content over different devices. The network, which has been expanding its multiplatform offerings in recent years, will offer live and on-demand viewing on the Internet, mobile phones and tablet devices. It also intends to make use of any new device or technology invented in the next nine years.

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"The depth of coverage, the availability to the American consumer [will be greater]in each successive Olympics," Comcast chairman and chief executive officer Brian Roberts said in a press conference at the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The announcement was made Tuesday after two days of negotiations. News Corp.-owned broadcaster Fox also bid, as did Walt Disney Co., which owns both ABC and cable sports network ESPN.

Canadian broadcasters, who are preparing their own Olympic bids, were likely keeping an eye on Tuesday's announcement. The U.S. price does not set the bar for Canadian media companies, since with a market one-tenth the size the Canadian bids are drastically lower. But one major question affecting the Canadian offers will be whether the NHL agrees to send its players to the Winter Games in Sochi. With its U.S. broadcast partner now the official broadcaster, the National Hockey League may be more inclined to co-operate.

Rogers Communications Inc. and BCE Inc. will partner for their upcoming bid. The networks they own - CTV, as well as specialty sports channels Rogers Sportsnet and TSN - worked together for the Vancouver Games and the upcoming London Games, forming a broadcast consortium to prepare a winning bid in 2003, when CTV was under the ownership of Bell Globemedia.

Early next month, the IOC will have introductory meetings in Toronto to go over the bidding process and meet media executives, said Peter Sisam, vice-president of IMG Canada and a consultant who advises the IOC on broadcast rights here. There are some new faces in charge of the country's biggest broadcasters - and some well-capitalized telecommunications companies likely interested in expanded mobile and Internet rights.

"The value of the Games goes up because there are so many platforms attached to it, and the companies involved are very interested in those platforms," Mr. Sisam said. Once the informal Toronto meetings are finished, the IOC will set a date for the Canadian broadcasters who choose to bid, to make their presentations in Lausanne.

The Vancouver Games were not the cash cow broadcasters on both sides of the border had hoped for, as the recession crunched ad revenues. NBC lost $223-million on its Vancouver coverage, and the Rogers-CTV consortium is counting on London to break even on its $153-million investment in the 2010 and 2012 Games combined.

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But NBC was optimistic on Tuesday that networks can turn that around in coming years.

What NBC paid

2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia: $775-million

2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: $1.226-billion

2018 Winter Games (location not yet decided): $963-million

2020 Summer Games (location not yet decided): $1.418-billion

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TOTAL: $4.38-billion

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