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U.S. Olympic Committee revives plans for Olympic Network

The U.S. Olympic Committee has not forgotten its previously stated dream of its own cable network. Now, after several aborted attempts, the committee plans to resume discussions next year with the International Olympic Committee.

Scott Blackmun, chief executive of the USOC, told a Reuters Global Media Summit that he plans to discuss the network with Comcast, assuming it is successful in completing the buyout of NBC Universal, a longtime broadcaster of the games. NBC Universal is expected to bid for U.S. broadcast rights to the 2014 and 2016 Olympics; although, bidding has not yet opened.

It was the IOC who objected in 2009 to efforts by the U.S. committee to start a cable network. That failed effort was viewed as hurting ties between the IOC and USOC, following a long-standing dispute over revenue from the games. It is not known whether the IOC’s position has changed.

Blackmun said the issue of the new cable network would likely be brought up when the USOC and IOC meet next year to discuss the broader question of how revenue is divided. “Inevitably when we sit down to talk to the IOC about revenue sharing, this would have to be something we discuss as well,” he said. ”There are a lot of people in the IOC who understand the value a network can bring.

“In order to successfully launch a network, we would need the IOC as a partner and a supporter in the endeavor,” Blackmun continued. “Now, whether that means financial participation or some other kind of participation I really can’t say, but I think we would have a much more successful launch if they were involved.”

An Olympic cable network would likely be built around the games, with news reports, commentary, interviews, documentaries, movies and classic Olympics footage. Rights holders would carry the games themselves.

Currently, the United States gets the single biggest share of revenue paid by the top sponsor at 20 percent and the largest share of overall TV revenue at 12.75 percent. The IOC wants to renegotiate those revenue splits.

NBC has broadcast all of the Olympic Games since 2000 and all of the Summer Games since 1988. The network paid $2 billion for the U.S. broadcast rights to the 2008 and 2010 Olympics and posted a loss of $223 million on the Winter Games in Vancouver in the first quarter.

Blackmun said the USOC is weighing its whole approach to digital media as it seeks new ways to generate create revenue and that an announcement about the new strategy would probably be made in the first quarter of next year.