NBC, which has had every Olympics the last two decades save 1994, has kept the games through 2020, despite competition from Fox and ESPN. Unlike its rival bidders, NBC had not promised to air the games live (and has in past years insisted on saving events for primetime on tape-delay). But after winning the bid today in Lausanne, Switzerland, NBC sports head Mark Lazarus said that it was committed to airing all events live “on one platform or another.” The details—how many events will be on TV and how much access on “other platforms” will be tied to new owner Comcast—remain to be seen.
It had seemed possible that NBC might end its streak of airing the games, as Fox and ESPN were poised to make serious bids. And with the ouster of NBC sports chief Dick Ebersol a few weeks ago came the implicit message that Comcast did not want to overpay for the Olympics again (it lost hundreds of millions, for instance, on Vancouver). But the winning bid, about $4.4 billion, was roughly equal, per Olympiad on average, to NBC’s payment for the 2012 London games.
Bidding aside, let’s hope the network makes good on its promises of live availability: with social media and mobile technology, live results are easy to obtain and are only going to get easier. Obviously, NBC owns the rights and can do what it likes, and what ensures the best return on its investment. But it’s not just viewers who have an interest in live streaming of events on whatever devices are available in the future; Comcast, the content-delivery company that bought a content provider, needs to be able to monetize those means of delivery if its purchase of NBC is to be worth it.
Here’s hoping a live Olympics—on whatever devices are on your person from 2014 to 2020—is both good sports and good business.