Terry Television winds his stopwatch as Seven prepares to stop its rivals pinching more than the maximum amount of Olympics footage.

For the next two and a bit weeks from this weekend, a group of people in the Seven Network around the country will be watching the opposition networks far more closely than normal. They’ll be checking every tape of every news and current affairs program news break, promotion and program stories where Olympic vision may have been used.

The time-code entry and exit points of every report will be noted and crunched. All Olympic vision, interviews and the like used on the other networks. Every hour of every day will be scanned and logged. The context and locations also checked closely. Venue-based and non-venue will be scanned to make sure whatever Nine, Ten and the ABC broadcasts doesn’t contravene Seven’s rights.

Counting the seconds and minutes and the number of times used. It will be a thankless task, but one in which Seven will be ruthless.

Welcome to the world of Three by Three. Not a new form of cross-country vehicle or a perambulator for grown up news hounds, but the limits on the use of Olympic vision by non-rights holders, such as Nine, Ten and the ABC.

It is the source of much friction, angst, and intense legal and telephonic activity as Seven, with more than $70 million at stake in rights fees and costs of the telecast, attempts to maximise its advantage.

The Seven Network hasn’t had things all its way. They lost a silly last minute legal battlke against Nine News late on Thursday as you see on The Australian’s website here.

Three by Three means no more than three minutes of vision used three times a day. And it is not new, it applied when Ten was the rights holders, but it has become more restrictive, especially at the Sydney Games.

The IOC regulations are actually more restrictive than those in Australia, the IOC rules allow for only two by two. That is two minutes of Olympic vision twice a day. Nine, Ten, and the ABC would go spare at that. But three by three has been the rule in Australia for years and it will be the rule for this Olympics

The old limit allowed for interviews to be done off-site, around the media centre and the village and other parts of the Olympic precinct. With contracts and other arrangements, with many high profile performers, the Nine Network in particular, has been skilful in getting round the Three by Three rule to present a pretty comprehensive set of reports. But doing that will be tougher for these games.

There are new International Olympic Committee regulations designed to further protect the rights holders. The Three by Three minutes now includes interviews with athletes and officials in the media centre. This means that on field and off field interviews and vision in specific parts of the ‘precincts’ of the games will be included in the Three by Three rules.

So Nine, Ten and the ABC can, in constructing their reports, use vision from the actual event (swimming, hockey etc) and interviews after the event broadcast by Seven. But to put their own stamp on it and spin, they will have to go completely off site and well away from the games and the media centre. Say a hotel in Athens itself.

Should there be a doping sensation or some other development, which requires lots of vision from the media centre, Nine, Ten and the ABC could find problems, or they will simply breach it to bring the news event, plead fair dealing, which was the excuse that Peter Meakin (now at Seven) used to breach the Three by Three rules in previous games).

Nine will have the greatest problems. There’s the Today Show and the news content in Today, the 11.30 News, the 4.30 News, A Current Affair and Nightline. Nine also has 60 Minutes, Business Sunday and Sunday on Sunday. The latter two programs have news content. So Business Sunday will not be able to run Olympic vision, Sunday will, followed by the 6pm News.

So I’d say vision and the three minutes in the Today Show (but not split), then again at 6pm News. Then leave it so ACA can use it or Nightline. The 4.30pm non-Olympic news from next Monday won’t be able to run vision, unless it is either a boring day (not much Aussie success) or such a huge story (Jana Pittman winning), that it has to be used.

Promos will be counted, but actual Olympic vision not allowed because of the three times part of the rule. So Nine and Ten and the ABC will have to use vision of athletes in non-Olympic events.

(And don’t worry about any Willoughby whinges. Nine will enforce its Three by Three rule in 2006 when the Commonwealth Games are here in Melbourne!)