Media Rights, Olympics, Europe

Inside Eurosport’s Olympic Channel deal: what does it say about the IOC’s OTT strategy?

Discovery-backed Eurosport’s long-term production and distribution deal with the Olympic Channel is designed to exploit the European broadcaster’s strengths and could reveal much about how the Olympics’ OTT service will be grown.

by Eoin Connolly
Inside Eurosport’s Olympic Channel deal: what does it say about the IOC’s OTT strategy?

Discovery-owned broadcaster Eurosport has deepened its commitment to Olympic coverage through a partnership with the Olympic Channel, the over-the-top (OTT) service launched by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) after Rio 2016.

The deal tracks the length of Eurosport’s live rights partnership for the Olympic Games in 50 countries, which begins with PyeongChang 2018 and runs until 2024. Olympic Channel programming will begin to appear on the Eurosport 1 and Eurosport 2 linear channels and the digital Eurosport Player from 2nd August, while there will also be an Olympic Channel portal on the broadcaster’s website and cross-branding efforts on social platforms.

Notably, Eurosport has also committed to developing original programming for the Olympic Channel using the Olympic archives and its own footage.

The agreement comes soon after the launch of American broadcaster NBC’s Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, a linear TV network that will provide year-round, 24/7 Olympic programming to viewers across the United States.


What’s behind the partnership?

“This is not just about sport but it is about sport inspiring a life and a way of living which is healthier and much more accepting of others,” said OBS chief executive Yiannis Exarchos, speaking on a media conference call as the deal was announced. “That was the premise of the creation of the Olympic Channel but as we have always viewed this to be an evolutionary offering, we cannot strike the fact that even though this is a global effort to be relevant it will have to have its more localised versions.”

From the outset, the Olympic Channel project has been about building an enduring presence for Olympic sport and content – not to mention IOC partners – between the twin four-year cycles of the Olympic Games. Its partnerships with NBC and now Eurosport are intended to expand its means of distribution and accelerate the installation of its viewer base.

Eurosport will combine Olympic Channel programming with coverage of other events to create a presence for Olympic sports between each Games

According to Eurosport chief executive Peter Hutton, the broadcaster has been eyeing the progress of the Olympic Channel since its live rights deal was negotiated with the IOC and both parties have “been talking for a long time about how exactly we cooperate”.

Eurosport  – whose parent, Discovery, spent €1.3 billion on acquiring its rights from the IOC in 2015 – has a similar need to building interest in Olympic sports between each Games, while the new integration also reinforces the impression of the network as the home of the Olympics ahead of its live debut from South Korea next February.

“We’re trying to make the Olympic brand something that lives year-round,” said Hutton. “We’re trying to take it to a younger audience. And we’re trying to do that through entertaining and challenging content across short-form and long-form. I think this new agreement is a strong, practical arrangement that helps us to make the most of our content and the Olympic Channel content, and encourages both of us to go out there and produce and commission new stories that help make the Olympic brand more relevant than ever.”


How will the partnership work?

Eurosport will begin the partnership by airing existing Olympic Channel programming, such as the hour-long Hall of Fame series and short-form videos telling the inside stories of Olympic athletes and moments, including On the Line and Against all Odds presented by Bridgestone.

Hutton suggests that Eurosport will try where it can to screen those programmes on Eurosport 1 and 2 in prime time, though admits their scheduling will be at the mercy of the “vagaries” of live events.

From there, the medium-term objective is for Eurosport to make use of the Olympic archives and of the “huge footprint” of the OBS production network to create original programming for all parties and “get access to stories that maybe we wouldn’t be doing normally in Europe”.

“The idea is certainly that we cooperate and make sure that we produce content that works for both us and the Olympic Channel,” explained Hutton. “So when we’re making unique content, whether it be using the Olympic archive or whether it be completely fresh material, the idea is that we discuss together, we work together to make sure that we make content that is unique. Rather than us all chasing the same goals with different journalists, we’re going to try and make stuff that can be used across platforms and therefore is a sensible way of bringing the two teams together.”   

The Olympic Channel will make use of the expertise of Eurosport, its parent Discovery, and other partners to create more original programming about Olympic athletes and moments

From the perspective of OBS and the Olympic Channel, working with the Discovery-backed Eurosport is being presented as an opportunity to work with what Exarchos described as one of the “prime producers and most creative producers of sports content around the world”. That, Exarchos continued, is part of a wider developing strategy of bringing in filmmaking and programming expertise from a range of global sources.

“From the get-go at the Olympic Channel,” he noted, “one of our objectives was actually to leverage creativity from all different parts of the world and try to go out and seek storytellers around sport that can really tell the story of the sport from different, very creative perspectives.

This is why the channel is cooperating with producers from more than 30 different countries. This is something that is and we want to remain a characteristic of the Olympic Channel because of its universal, global Olympic nature.”

He added of the Discovery deal: “From a production point of view, it’s a partnership made in heaven.”

During Games-time, Hutton explained, there is “no specific plan” for how Eurosport and the Olympic Channel will interact, but all involved will work together to “amplify the best content”.

“We clearly are cooperating [with host broadcaster OBS] every minute and every day during the Olympics to make sure that the best content is out and people get to see it,” he added.


Why not a new linear channel, as in the US?

The launch in mid-July of Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA has, Exarchos claims, inspired a “very, very, very strong and significant increase in terms of traffic on the worldwide digital platform coming from the United States”.

As the name suggests, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA is an attempt by NBC to create a destination for American viewers of Olympic sports between each Games, with a particular focus on US athletes. That is in keeping with the editorial strategy that NBC has adopted for the Olympics for several editions.

Working across 50 territories, any Eurosport linear channel would naturally have had to adopt a different editorial approach. Hutton argues, in any case, that a permanent Olympic service on television would not serve the interests of either Eurosport or the Olympic Channel, and that exploiting “the really wide visibility” of existing Eurosport platforms “is something that really works for us”.

For Mark Parkman, the Olympic Channel general manager who joined Exarchos and Hutton on the conference call, the decision to make use of Eurosport’s reach and Discovery’s programme-making clout are indicators of a flexible global strategy.

“We’re tailor-making our strategy in the local markets in partnership with our rights-holding broadcasters, so in each territory it’s not a one-size-fits-all,” he said. “We do what’s best in each individual market in partnership with our partners to make the most compelling delivery system that we can. For Europe, this is a great situation for us. It maximises their distribution, their digital portals, in combination with ours, and it’s a great way that we can extend our brand through this digital partnership.”