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New Olympics channel already creating headaches

July 9, 2009 |  2:53 pm

Will the U.S. Olympic Committee grab the gold or suffer one of those crushing "agony of defeat" moments?

A controversy over the U.S. committee's plans to launch its own cable channel intensified today when the International Olympic Committee, the worldwide organization that organizes the games, jumped into the fray. The IOC said in a statement that it doesn't want the U.S. group's proposed new cable channel to interfere in dealings with its powerful television partner, NBC Universal.

"The proposed channel raises complex legal and contractual issues and could have a negative impact [on] our relationships with other Olympic broadcasters and sponsors, including our U.S. TV partner, NBC," the IOC said.

NBC Universal's parent company, General Electric, has committed $2.2 billion to broadcast the 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games and owns a minority stake in a start-up venture, Universal Sports. That new cable channel, available in 45 million homes, is designed to shine a spotlight on off-season events, lower-profile Olympic sports and other "lifestyle sports" programming.

But if the U.S. Olympic Committee succeeds in launching its own channel, then Universal Sports might find itself without some of the key Olympics programming that it is banking on. NBC Universal owns the venture along with InterMedia Partners, a private equity firm.

Another concern for the IOC is whether the U.S. committee's efforts will become an unwanted wrinkle in the bidding for the next round of television rights for the 2014 Olympics and beyond. Already, NBC Universal, Disney's ESPN and News Corp.'s Fox Sports have expressed an interest in bidding on the Games.

The flap exposes more friction between the IOC and the U.S. Olympic Committee, which have had an ongoing feud over their revenue sharing plan. 

"The IOC's cooperation with USOC includes working together on Olympic sponsorship and broadcasting agreements within the United States,'' The IOC said in its statement. "We were aware that the USOC had been considering a new 'Olympic broadcast network,' but we have never been presented with a plan, and we had assumed that we would have an opportunity to discuss unresolved questions together before the project moved forward. It is for this reason that the IOC is disappointed that USOC acted unilaterally and, in our view, in haste by announcing their plans before we had had a chance to consider together the ramifications."

-- Meg James