Yahoo Olympic bid unfeasible without traditional media partner, experts say

March 12, 2012  |  Chris Powell  |  Comments

With recent reports suggesting that Yahoo is preparing a bid for the Canadian broadcast rights to 2014 and 2016 Olympic Games, industry experts say it’s unlikely the internet company could deliver a comparable Games experience without significant assistance from traditional broadcast partners.

Sherry O’Neil, co-founder of the new Toronto-based media agency Cairns O’Neil Strategic Media, said that while the Olympic bid would be a “ballsy” move for Yahoo, it seems more like a publicity play.

“I think it’s a PR move because Yahoo’s sort of been left in the dust by the bigger brands in the medium,” she said.

The internet is increasingly playing a vital role in Olympics coverage–Canadians consumed about 7.2 million hours of video during the 2010 Vancouver Games, and the Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium served up an estimated 28.5 million online videos–but experts say an internet-only Games is not quite ready for prime time.

“It would be pretty much impossible for [Yahoo] to do this without having some sort of traditional broadcast partner,” said O’Neil. “They might be the lead, but I’d be shocked if they didn’t partner up with somebody.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) would no doubt welcome the prospect of a competitive bid to drive up the price for the Olympic rights, particularly after receiving what have been characterized as “low-ball” bids by the newly formed Bell/CBC Radio-Canada alliance. The group is said to have bid in the neighbourhood of $70 million for the Sochi 2014 Winter Games and Rio De Janeiro 2016 Summer Games–about half of what the Bell/Rogers partnership paid for the 2010 Vancouver and 2012 London Games.

Canadian broadcasters are likely unwilling to pony up huge sums for rights to the 2014 Olympics since there is still uncertainty about whether the National Hockey League will allow its players to participate. The nine-hour time difference between Sochi and Toronto also creates scheduling headaches.

The Olympics confer considerable prestige on their broadcast partners, said O’Neil, but they are not typically profitable. “It’s a wonderful brand to be associated with, it gets you on the radar, but if you think it’s going to make you money, you’re wrong,” she said, noting that it’s unlikely the Bell/Rogers partnership made money even on the hugely successful Vancouver Games in 2010.

A winning bid by Yahoo, however, would create numerous questions for the media buying community relating to issues such as audience numbers and live event coverage.

Sidneyeve Matrix, a professor of media studies at Queen’s University, speculated that Yahoo would be unable to command the same sort of rates as a traditional broadcaster like CTV or CBC. “They just don’t have the audience, because of everything from digital divides to region and income and generation,” she said.

Matrix also expressed surprise that Yahoo is seeking an association with the Games, noting that Google is more of a fit because of its ownership of the video sharing site YouTube and its Google TV platform. “I don’t really think of Yahoo as a broadcast company,” said Matrix. “I’m sure it serves up a lot of video, but I think YouTube would be a more logical bidder.

“If it was YouTube I could say ‘Wow, here’s the future of broadcasting.’ It’s more feasible to think about that just because of the pre-existing extension of Google TV. They do have an established platform – this would be a great way to promote connected television.”

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