IOC, USOC, NBCU to Launch Olympic Channel in 2017

NBCUniversal has partnered with the International Olympic Committee and the United States Olympic Committee to launch an "Olympic Channel" TV network in the United States in the second half of 2017.

The network -- to complement the existing, worldwide online Olympic Channel that launched after the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janiero -- will offer Olympic-themed sports content on a 24-hour basis, representatives from the groups said during a press call Thursday morning. The channel is being branded as "Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA."

NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel said the network will launch as part of the NBCUniversal channel portfolio as NBCU obtains new carriage deals or renewals through negotiations with pay-TV providers. He said AT&T, as part of a carriage renewal pact announced in September, has agreed to launch Olympic Channel on top U.S. satellite-TV provider DirecTV and that he's confident that the network will gain broad distribution over time because of interest in the programming.

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The partnership will also bring additional coverage of Olympic sports programs on other NBCU platforms including NBC, NBC Sports Network and NBC Sports Digital outlets, beginning this Saturday (Dec. 17) with the Team USA Winter Champions Series. Live events and original content, including on Team USA from the USOC, will staples on the channel year round, the partners said.

Zenkel said NBC's streaming plans for the linear channel would be on an authenticated basis, tied to pay-TV pacts. The Olympic Channel general manager Mark Parkman said that the network will have access to content across the globe.

“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,” Parkman said in a release about the new partnership.

NBC Sports had previously been part of a collaboration on an Olympic sports channel -- Universal Sports Network -- in this country, partnering with InterMedia Partners, which was the majority owner. That effort failed to reach a critical mass of distribution and closed down in 2015. That channel had DirecTV and several other major pay-TV affiliates, including Dish Network and Time Warner Cable (which is now part of Charter Communications), but failed to land a carriage pact with leading cable provider Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal. With more of an ownership stake in this new channel (ownership splits in this partnership were not disclosed) Comcast might have more incentive to provide substantial distribution to this time around. Comcast also has committed $12 billion to own the U.S. rights to Olympic summer and winter games through 2032.

NBCU acquired some key Olympic content rights previously held by Universal Sports Network in 2015 soon after the network closed down. 

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.