The U.S. Olympic Committee is the latest major sports organization to dive into the television channel business, announcing Wednesday that it was partnering with cable giant Comcast Corp. to launch the U.S. Olympic Network.
"Olympics programming really goes dark for the two years between the Games, and there are many events and compelling stories that are never broadcast," said U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Operating Officer Norman Bellingham. "We want to tell the stories of the journeys of the athletes along the way to the Games."
The committee has been working for nearly two years to sign partners for the proposed USON channel, which could debut in 11 million homes sometime after the February 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada. The committee finalized the deal with Comcast last week and unveiled its partnership Wednesday in Sun Valley, Idaho, during the Allen & Co. media conference.
"The Olympics is a huge event but it could be a challenge to get people to come to the channel on a regular basis," analyst Derek Baine of SNL Kagan said. "But everyone seems to believe that they need to own their own channel."
The network could provide live coverage of championship competitions and, after 2012, coverage of Olympic trial events, interviews, documentaries, classic footage and even Olympic-themed movies.
Shortly after the U.S. committee announced its plans, the New York Times reported that members of the International Olympic Committee were objecting and had not authorized the use of the Olympic name or television footage.
The controversy "was a significant surprise to us," Bellingham said, adding that the U.S. committee had long made its plans to launch a channel known to the IOC. "This leaves us a little bit baffled, but we believe that we can work through our differences."
An IOC spokesman wasn't available for comment.
Before Comcast will move forward, the U.S. Olympic Committee must resolve its differences with the IOC, a person close to the situation said.
The Olympic Committee's plans could undermine the Universal Sports channel, a new network partly owned by NBC Universal that offers a heavy dose of Olympics programming. NBC, which has agreed to pay $2 billion for the rights to broadcast the Games, had talked to the committee about being a partner in the venture but decided against it.