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NBCUniversal, IOC Pact for Year-Round Linear Olympics Channel

NBCUniversal has pacted with the International Olympic Committee to launch a year-round linear channel devoted to all things Olympics.

Dubbed Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, the outlet is expected to launch in the second half of 2017. The deal with the IOC and the U.S. Olympic Committee will also bring more Olympic-related events and programming to other NBCU sports platforms. The IOC will work with its other broadcast partners around the world to develop local versions of the service.

NBCUniversal controls U.S. broadcast rights to the Olympics through 2034, with its most recent extension representing a $7.65 billion for the events from 2021 through 2034.

The launch of the linear channel is no surprise given Comcast’s enormous investment in the Olympics, but the channel will undoubtedly be a tough sell to rival MVPDs at a time when distributors are looking to slim down channel packages, not add new sports outlets. In a conference call Thursday, NBCU executives said AT&T and its DirecTV satellite-distribution unit had already agreed to carry the network, said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics. The company will talk with other distributors as contracts come up for renewal, he said, and had not begun talking to NBCU parent Comcast about carriage as a current deal to carry NBCU networks was still extant.

NBCU already launched a digital Olympic Channel platform after the closing of the Rio summer games in August. But the new linear channel will allow viewers to stay “more closely connected with the Olympic Movement through a more personalized experience,” said Mark Parkman, general manager of the Olympic Channel. “The evolution of the Olympic Channel in the United States is a significant milestone as we expand our distribution options across the globe in conjunction with our broadcast and National Olympic Committee partners. Placing a spotlight on Olympic sports outside of the Games themselves will ultimately bring them more deserved attention and help them grow.”

The outlet plans to feature coverage of a range of summer and winter Olympic sports, in an effort to identify Olympic hopefuls early on, as well as key Olympic trials events.

“The Olympic Channel partnership will provide multiple, year-round platforms to highlight the incredible achievements and inspiring stories of Olympic athletes and the Olympic values they represent, including a full-time home for Olympic sports when we launch the new linear channel in 2017,” said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics.

NBCU’s Zenkel said the linear network would not be live-streamed on standalone services like Apple TV or Roku, but would likely be available to cable and satellite subscribers who wish to watch its programming on mobile devices. Advertising is expected to be mostly limited to IOC and USOC sponsors, said Zenkel, but other marketers might be able to find opportunities in specific pieces of programming.

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