LONDON Future Olympic Games could be screened in Britain by a pay TV operator such as BSkyB rather than incumbent the BBC, the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has told a newspaper.
The Olympics are one of the major sports events which must be screened on free-to-air TV in Britain. However, the government plans to review those safeguards next year after completing the transition to multi-channel digital television.
Rights holders such as the IOC are seeking to balance the desire to maximize value for their content with the need to ensure maximum exposure for sports.
IOC President Jacques Rogge was quoted in the Guardian newspaper as saying that all options would be considered for the UK rights to the 2014 Winter Olympics and Summer Games in 2016.
"It is open to everyone - to public companies, private companies, free-to-air, satellite, mobile, even the possibility to sell them to an agent company that buys the rights and sells them on," Rogge was quoted saying.
"The deadline is 29 June and then we will enter into negotiations with different companies," he said.
A senior IOC official confirmed to Reuters that bidding for the UK rights was under way and would end this week.
The BBC, funded by a license fee levy on British households, plans to stream live coverage of every event from the Games in London next month, something it has never done before. It has covered every Games since London last hosted the Olympics in 1948.
Rogge noted that Sky Italia, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, had won the rights to the London Olympics and had done a deal with state broadcaster RAI to meet an obligation to show 200 hours free-to-air.
Any involvement of pay TV in screening the Games is likely to provoke opposition in Britain.
"We are certain that our members will campaign to ensure that the Olympics remains a listed (protected) event," said Sophie Chalk, a spokeswoman for consumer lobby group the Voice of the Listener and Viewer.
The BBC declined to comment. BSkyB was not immediately available for comment.
(Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by David Holmes)