NRK loses TV rights for the Olympics

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State-run Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) suffered a major, some might say unthinkable, blow this week when it was outbid for the rights to carry the Olympics on television in 2014 and 2016. Sports fans will now need to tune into national commercial television station TV2 to catch the action.

NRK has always broadcast the Winter Olympics, like here in Vancouver last year when they interviewed gold medalist Aksel Lund Svindal. Now NRK's large sports staff will have to watch TV2 do the job. PHOTO: Views and News/NRK

Bergen-based TV2 won a national bidding round for both the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. It’s believed TV2 offered around NOK 100 million to carry the Olympics, called simply “OL” in Norway.

It was a huge loss for NRK, which had a state monopoly on all national broadcasting in Norway for years, until TV2 was allowed to set up in the early 1990s. NRK retained its grip on major events, however, until bidding rounds started exceeding its state-authorized budget restraints.

NRK lost the rights, for example, to carry the World Cup in football last year. Now NRK boss Hans-Tore Bjerkaas said himself that he had one of his toughest days on the job Wednesday when he had to accept that the national broadcaster wouldn’t be able to carry the Olympics for the first time ever. NRK has broadcast every Olympics since TV became available in Norway in 1960.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported Thursday that TV2 was willing to pay NOK 50 million (USD 9 million) for each of the two Olympics to Germany sports and marketing firm Sportfive, which, for the first time, has secured the rights to license OL broadcasts on behalf of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Bidding was reportedly brisk between NRK and TV2 but NRK felt forced to withdraw. Details of the bidding haven’t been confirmed.

“We won’t have OL in 2014 or 2016 but we will broadcast from the summer games in London next year,” Bjerkaas said. “We also expect to come back stronger the next time the IOC puts up its broadcasting rights for sale.” NRK also reported on Thursday that it still may try to obtain radio broadcasting rights to the Olympics.

TV2 officials were jubilant, promising Norwegians that they’ll get more OL broadcasts than ever, “mostly for free,” and that they’ll do a better job than NRK despite NRK’s decades of OL broadcast experience and TV2’s lack of it.

“If we don’t manage to offer better OL broadcasts than NRK has done, we won’t have succeeded,” Bjørn Taalesen, sports boss for TV2, told Aftenposten. He claimed TV2 has gained valuable experience in sports broadcasting through its coverage of the Tour de France and football.

He noted that TV2 is obligated, through terms set by the IOC, to broadcast 100 hours of winter OL coverage and 200 hours of summer OL coverage on its free channel “and we have no intention of becoming unpopular.” He said more than the minimum will be broadcast free of charge, but extra broadcasts will be offered to customers on a channel that will require payment.

The 2014 and 2016 Olympics will nonetheless mark the first time that Norwegians will need to endure commercials, which finance TV2 as opposed to the mandatory licensing fees that NRK collects from every owner of a TV in Norway. NRK thus has no commercials, allowing broadcasts free from commercial interruption.

TV2 will need to hire more staff to handle the Olympics, said Taalesen, noting that “NRK had more people in Vancouver (for the Winter Olympics last year) than we have in total.” TV2 still thinks it will profit from OL despite its bid and production costs.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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