Comcast, USOC Eye Dedicated Olympic Service In 2010

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The U.S Olympic Committee and Comcast have formed a joint venture for a service dedicated to Olympic sports and athletes here in the States. Now, they just have to get another player on board: the International Olympic Committee.

After announcing the formation of the U.S. Olympic Network during a conference call from the Allen & Co. media industry conference in Sun Valley, Utah, reports surfaced that the IOC has not given all the clearances the fledgling service wanted relative to programming and naming rights.

Comcast has a provision to back out of the deal if the IOC issues are not resolved, according to sources familiar with the deal. It was not immediately clear when the parties would have to come to an accord.

During the teleconference announcing the service, USOC officials would say only the network would launch sometime in 2010, after the conclusion of the Winter Games in Vancouver.

The USON's game plan calls for it to launch on Comcast's Digital Classic tier of service, which reaches some 10 million homes and includes the recently imported NFL Network, as well as NBA TV and MLB Network.

On the call, USON officials said there was room in the agreement for other equity players in the service. Steve Greenberg, managing director of Allen & Co., noting that his firm had helped write the business plan for MLB Network, which includes cable and satellite stakeholders in the service, said "we certainly believe in that business model."

MLB Network launched to more than 50 million households on Jan.1, a record for a cable service.
As a multiplatform service, USON would also present content via Comcast's on-demand and broadband platforms.

In addition to live events, USON said its programming roster would include educational and coaching shows, original series, genre feature and documentary films, as well as archival Olympics fare. The latter is evidently a point of contention with the IOC.

Going past the 2012 Games, USON also plans to use the rights to U.S. Olympic trials action, including regional build-ups to the national competitions. NBC, the U.S. Olympics TV rights-holder through the Summer Games in during 2012, has control of the U.S. Olympics trials leading up to the competition in London. 

USOC officials said they believe the service will raise the profile for the varied Olympic sports during the years in between the Games. Some proceeds from the network, which would gain revenue from both license fees and advertising dollars, would fall to the various governing bodies for the sports.

While rate cards and contracts have not been finalized, Peter Ueborroth, former chairman of the USOC committee, on the call said there were tentative commitments from USOC sponsors. The USON, officials said, would prove to be an attractive vehicle to advertisers who wanted to activate their sponsorships outside of the Olympic windows.
Moreover, they said the exposure the network would bring will lift viewership during the Games themselves.

USON wouldn't be the only player in the space, as Universal Sports is already presenting Olympic-style sports and profiles of the athletes at play. Originally, World Championship Sports Network, which had been owned by Leo Hindery's InterMedia Partners, the Olympic-sports service was rebranded as Universal Sports in June 2008, when NBC Universal became a joint-venture partner.

Leveraging retransmission-consent to negotiate multicast carriage for the network, NBCU has secured some 33 million subscribers (26 million via cable-connected subs and 7 million through over-the-air digital converter boxes) and is in front of nearly 56 million homes, including positioning in nine of the top 10 DMAs (excluding Boston).

Universal Sports officials, in recent interviews, said they had tried to reach an accord with the USOC.