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NBC wins TV rights to next four Olympic Games

Comcast has allowed its newly owned television network, NBC, to extend its Olympics coverage until 2020 by offering $4.38 billion for the rights to four Games. This week NBC acquired the rights to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia; the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro; and the next two Olympics in cities yet to be chosen.

The deal was notable because it occurred without the help of Dick Ebersol, the longtime head of NBC Sports who resigned last month. Ebersol has been behind every Olympics deal since 1988, but left after the cable giant took control of the network.

Bidders had the option to vie for two Games, four Games or both. ESPN bid $1.4 billion for the 2014 and 2016 Games; Fox put in bids for two Olympics and for four Olympics. However, it was Comcast — who decided the Olympics were worth the high cost — that won the auction.

The bidding took place at International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Eight years ago, NBC agreed to pay $2 billion to carry last year’s Winter Games in Vancouver and next year’s Summer Games in London.

But much had changed in eight years. The three networks were bidding in the aftermath of a global recession and changed distribution technology. Also there was NBC’s $223 million loss in Vancouver last year and the possibility that it will lose at least that much in London. All three companies said they would be prudent and not bid wildly.

Fox made its presentation first, followed by ESPN and, finally, NBC. Their audience consisted of nine officials of the Olympic committee, including Jacques Rogge, its president; Richard Carrión, the I.O.C. member from Puerto Rico, who was in charge of the auction; and Timo Lumme, the director of television and marketing services.

After the final presentation, each network placed a sealed envelope containing its bid into a Plexiglas box.

In a statement, ESPN’s disappointment was clear. “We made a disciplined bid that would have brought tremendous value to the Olympics and would have been profitable for our company. To go any further would not have made good business sense for us.”