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NBCU Shy About Comcast’s Plans for Olympic Channel

Comcast is going to carry the new Olympic Channel being created by NBCUniversal.

But when NBCU, the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee announced plans to launch the linear cable network, the only distributor officially on board was DirecTV.

Comcast, NBCU’s parent company, is spending billions on Olympic broadcast rights through 2032. Comcast also earlier this month agreed to be an official partner of the U.S. Olympic committee through 2020.

And Comcast threw itself into this year’s Rio games, creating a huge Olympic section on its X1 operating system, giving subscribers access to hours of competition live and on demand.

But when it acquired NBCU, Comcast agreed to provide access to independent programmers.

So when Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics, was asked about how much carriage the new Olympic channel has and whether it will be carried by Comcast, this is what he said.

“NBCUniversal completed a distribution agreement with DirecTV-AT&T over the summer which included the Olympic Channel. There is currently a commitment to carry the Olympic Channel… We are in a cycle in which we are negotiating with distributors; the Olympic Channel will be in that conversation. We are optimistic that distributors will embrace this opportunity and content and the opportunity to bring the content to their audiences as we described earlier.”

“We have not begun to discuss the distribution of the Olympic Channel with Comcast because those negotiations have not naturally begun. NBC is not currently in negotiations with Comcast for the distribution of the NBCUniversal bundle. When that begins, the Olympic Channel will certainly be part of that discussion,” Zenkel said.

In a follow up question, Zenkel was asked if NBCU’s deal with Comcast doesn’t expire before the Olympic Channel is scheduled to launch, will NBCU wait till then to be in negotiations.

“Of course not,” Zenkel replied. “We will approach them sometime in the future. Again, the natural term of the Comcast deal, which I don't have handy because I'm not part of the distribution team here, but when that term does come up, we will do it. If it's after the launch of the channel, we will begin the conversations with Comcast in advance of that. But we have not started that yet.”

The new channel does not have the rights to the Olympic games, which will be carried on NBC’s own channels. Zenkel couldn’t say what the channel will be showing those weeks.

“We’re still about 14 months out, not that we aren't spending a lot of time working on our program plans for PyeongChang. But those plans are in development,” he said.

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.