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Web Sites Seek Olympic Coverage

October 3, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ Many of the world’s leading media organizations, unhappy with the blanket Internet ban of the Sydney Games, are demanding greater freedom in 2002 to broadcast via the Web.

Olympic officials prevented Web sites from offering even short audio reports featuring competition from this year’s Games. Sites could not run video and audio highlights _ though those same feeds were permitted on television and radio.

The media outlets say they will use a December conference in Switzerland to press the International Olympic Committee to relax its policies.

Olympic organizers justified the ban on fears the global Internet would interfere with broadcast contracts awarded by region. NBC paid $4 billion for exclusive U.S. rights to the Olympics through 2008, including $705 million for the Sydney Games that concluded Sunday.

While CBS could run Olympic highlights on its TV news programs after NBC’s broadcast day ended, the CBS Sportsline Web site could not.

Sportsline’s vice president of programming, Joe Ferreira, considers that discriminatory.

``It’s shortsighted,″ he said. ``They either don’t understand the Internet or don’t know the Internet is legitimate media.″

For sports fan Gary Gluckman, the restrictions meant he could not see U.S. sprinter Marion Jones win her first gold medal Sept. 23, or even get highlights online, because he was working when the games were televised.

Such policies, Gluckman said, cheapen the Olympic spirit.

``People are expecting nowadays to be able to watch important events on the Internet,″ said Gluckman, 30, of Stony Brook, N.Y. ``The world is changing, and they have to change with it.″

Even MSNBC.com could not run footage, despite ties with NBC. And NBCOlympics.com, the NBC online joint venture with Quokka Sports, used only still images from television feeds to comply.

Abroad, the IOC rules prompted such major news outlets as the British Broadcasting Corp., which had Olympic broadcast rights at home, to stop posting radio bulletins on the Internet for the duration of the games.

Fiona Williams, a BBC spokeswoman, called the restrictions regrettable but said change will not come easily because Olympic rights are ``signed and sealed″ through 2008.

The IOC will host a conference Dec. 4-5 in Lausanne on Internet-related issues. Among topics to be explored will be limited test of Internet video of the Sydney games that were made available through some cable and satellite systems in the United States and Australia.

Franklin Servan-Schriber, the IOC’S director of new media, said Olympic organizers will likely change some Internet policies in time for Winter Games in Salt Lake City 16 months from now. He would not elaborate on what is being considered.

Defending this year’s policies, Servan-Schriber said online video technology is still primitive and the necessary high-speed connections are available to less than 1 percent of the total television audience worldwide.

Any video made available on the Internet in 2002 may require agreement of the holders of television rights, he said. NBC broadcast officials did not return phone calls seeking comment on whether they would be amenable to allowing Internet video during the Salt Lake games.

For the 2004 Athens Games and beyond, Servan-Schriber said, broadcast and Internet rights are separate, meaning the IOC could sell a Web site rights to stream video.

Dave Powell, chief executive of the London company hired by the IOC to police the Net, said he could envision pay-per-view services in Salt Lake City: ``The technology is becoming available to monitor and police that properly.″

The company, Copyright Control Services, found and halted some 50 violations, most of them inadvertent. Powell said the success of this year’s policing should make officials more comfortable.

``The genie is gradually being let out of the bottle in a controlled manner,″ he said.

Professional sports leagues vary in how they handle the Internet. The National Hockey League, for instance, allows news outlets to use some highlights on their Web sites, with restrictions set on a case-by-case basis. The National Football League, which has allowed limited use of highlight footage, will begin carrying live audio feeds Sunday at nfl.com or team sites.

Some news organizations also complained about IOC’s refusal to recognize dot-com journalists.

Servan-Schriber said the IOC may relax that policy by 2002, although he said most online journalists who wanted to cover this year’s Games found ways.

Reporters from MSNBC.com and several other sites got media credentials through their parent print or broadcast outlet. FoxSports.com covered events by buying tickets or watching them on television.

Steve Robinson, managing editor of the CNN/Sports Illustrated Web site, said that while restrictions at sporting events are common, ``these restrictions just happen to be rather harsh.″

During the last Summer Olympics, in 1996, ``none of us really considered video options,″ said Jim Brady, sports programming director at America Online.

And the Winter Games in 1998, Brady said, came just before Americans began getting high-speed connections suitable for video.

Robinson said that as fast connections become even more commonplace, ``the IOC is going to have to acknowledge the presence and the impact and the importance of Web sites.″

___

International Olympic Committee: http://www.olympic.org

Official Olympics site: http://olympics.com

NBC site: http://nbcolympics.com

Details on restrictions: http://activerights.com

Copyright Control Services: http://www.copyrightcontrol.com

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