The Olympic Channel – a joint venture between the IOC, USOC and NBCUniversal – launches in 35 million US homes this Saturday, and management is confident that number will soon be on the rise.
NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel said on a conference call Thursday he expects to grow distribution to more than 40 million homes in the coming months, noting the company is already in talks with several additional operators. He added that NBC’s partnership with the IOC and USOC also involves Olympic content airing on NBC and NBCSN, which serves as an opportunity to create demand for Olympic Channel.
“My hunch is there will be an interest in seeing that which might not be accessible to those who are not being distributed the channel,” Zenkel said.
The net’s programming lineup will consist of live events from underserved Olympic sports, as well original content and archival footage. The net will replace Universal HD on a number of cable systems and, like its predecessor, will be available exclusively in HD.
In addition to being available on all of parent Comcast’s systems, the net will be available at launch to subscribers of DirecTV, AT&T, Altice USA, Charter, Verizon Fios and Cox. NBC Olympics president of production and programming Jim Bell noted the channel is on digital basic tiers with most providers. Five virtual MVPDs—DirecTV Now, fubo TV, Hulu, Playstation Vue and YouTube TV—are also signed up to offer Olympic Channel. DISH, which also operates Sling TV, is the biggest missing link in the distribution chain.
While the parties involved are marketing the net as a home for Olympic content between the Games, expect Olympic Channel to also be in the mix during next year’s Winter Games in PyeongChang. Zenkel said it will join the stable of NBC nets airing content from South Korea, which could include live events and “at the very least” will be complimentary to events distributed on other nets. NBCU’s current deal for Olympic rights runs through 2032.
On the talent side, Bell said NBC won’t need to make additional hires for the new net. That’s disappointing news for the glut of experienced sports broadcasters available for hire in the wake of ESPN’s massive layoffs earlier this year.
The IOC launched the Olympic Channel as a free online streaming service following last year’s Rio Games, and the venture with NBC in the US is the first linear edition. The organization recently reached a deal for linear distribution in Africa, and IOC Olympic Channel global GM Mark Parkman said there are plans for distribution in other territories.
Bridgestone, Toyota and Alibaba—all members of the IOC’s TOP Sponsor program—are the founding partners of the global Olympic Channel. Parkman said that in addition to 30-second spots, viewers can expect to see commercial integration into various programming segments on the net. Both Parkman and USOC CMO Lisa Baird touted the net as an opportunity for sponsors to activate around Olympic and Team USA IP between Games.
New primetime Olympic host Mike Tirico, who is replacing Bob Costas in the role, will host a launch special at 6am ET Saturday morning. For another early programming highlight, the net will air eight original game broadcasts from the Dream Team’s 1992 Gold Medal run in Barcelona. Beginning Aug. 28, the net will air one game each night in primetime.