Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president, has declared “everything is possible” when it comes to selling TV rights for the Games after London, raising the prospect of the BBC losing some or all of its coverage of the event.
A wide range of bids from traditional free-to-air broadcasters, pay-TV companies and telecom providers is expected by the IOC when it tears open envelopes containing the bids on Friday. It will then decide whether to go to a second round of bidding, as it seeks to maximise broadcasting revenue .
The UK broadcasting rights, which are held by the BBC, are protected by listed-events legislation that guarantees it free-to-air coverage. But the IOC has confirmed that a pay-TV broadcaster such as Sky or a telecom company such as BT could bid in expectation of the legislation being altered, or to sublease some of the rights back to a free-to-air broadcaster.
Alternatively, in the new digital landscape, there are many more companies which could potentially launch a free-to-air channel distributed via Freeview, cable, satellite and the Internet.
It has been reported that ITV, Channel 4, Sky and BT have also received the tender documents and are weighing up their options. Channel 4, which will show the Paralympics this summer and bid for Formula One rights, could be a surprise contender.
The government, which shelved an ongoing review of listed events when it came to power, will review the situation again this year, when the entire analogue TV network had been switched to digital.