Millions of Canadians could end up watching future Olympic games online if web giant Yahoo follows through on reported plans to bid for the Canadian broadcast rights for the world's largest athletic event.
According to a report in the Globe and Mail, Yahoo is considering entering the bidding for the Canadian rights to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
If Yahoo wins the rights, it would have a number of options. It could broadcast the games on its online channels; it could stream through an online partner like Netflix or video on demand; or it could licence TV stations to broadcast the games.
Yahoo has already racked up some Olympic successes. During the 2010 Vancouver games, the web portal's traffic beat that of NBC's website, which owned the U.S. broadcast rights.
The web portal's move comes after a "lowball" bid to the International Olympic Committee from traditional broadcaster CBC and partner Bell Canada, which have joined forces to go after the games. The Globe reports CBC-BCE were unwilling to put in a larger bid because of uncertainty over whether the NHL will allow its players to participate in Sochi.
That opens the door to a higher bid from Yahoo, "which is now weighing using the Canadian broadcast rights as an opportunity to enhance its reputation as a content producer and revitalize its fortunes after losing ground to rivals such as Google Inc.," the Globe wrote.
The CBC-BCE consortium believes the games may garner weak ratings because of the nine-hour time difference between Sochi and central Canada. For CBC-BCE, the appearance of NHL players would make a crucial difference in audience numbers. The IOC "quietly rejected" the consortium's bid last month, the Globe reported.
The prospect of Yahoo owning the broadcast rights to the Olympics in Canada is the latest sign that television is rapidly changing in the era of the Internet.
In an article published Monday on TechCrunch, entrepeneur Ruslan Kogan declares that 2012 "needs to be the year sports teams around the world wake up and start realizing that their multi-billion dollar licensing deals with networks are about to become worthless."
Kogan argues devoted followers of sports events will have no problem switching to watching their events online, and the switch will provide advertisers with an opportunity for more targeted advertising.
"There would be a more accurate sense of the viewer's location, their gender, their age, their interests and what other websites they like (both the Google and Yahoo advertising network can let you target based on these characteristics) -- you would then be able to very accurately market with extreme precision to your worldwide audience of millions," Kogan writes.
The previous broadcasting partnership, between CTV and Rogers Communications, is sitting out the current round of bidding, apparently also concerned about weak ratings.
The Olympics' online presence has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years.
"In four short years from (the 2006 Winter Games in) Torino to (the 2010 Winter Games in) Vancouver, we've witnessed the growth of digital media," IOC TV and marketing services director Timo Lumme said last year. "In fact, we now have the same amount of hours covered globally on the Internet and mobile phones as we have on television."
And Olympic exposure is growing overall; total TV broadcast hours for the Vancouver games were double that for the Turin Games in 2006, and triple the Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002.
In some places, the Olympics as an online phenomenon are a reality. In Taiwan, an Internet service provider controls the online and broadcasting rights to the games.
However, that won't be the reality in the United States any time soon; NBC has struck a four-games deal that will see it broadcast the Olympics through 2020.
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