During the 2016 Rio Olympics, the international Olympics Committee has granted Seven exclusive rights to broadcast and distribute the games to Australian audiences — in exchange for millions of dollars. But what exactly does all that cash buy?

Seven itself has entered into five sub-licenses — with ABC Radio, Southern Cross Austereo, Yahoo7 and West Australian Newspapers for coverage on radio and digital platforms.

The rights to the broadcast are worth millions to the Olympics (they help fund the event), and it’s only in Seven’s interest to pay if it can guard the value of its exclusive coverage. To do this, the Olympic Committee has issued a comprehensive 12-page document of restrictions on how everyone else can cover the Olympic Games in Australia. To be granted access to the Olympics, media outlets without Olympic rights provide prior written guarantees to the Olympic Television News Agency, with a copy to Seven, that they will stick to the rules. Failure to do so, the document says, will cost outlets their accreditation. An email sent by International Olympic Committee head of media operations Anthony Edgar to media outlets last week stressed the consequences of not sticking to the guidelines:

“The IOC, Seven and each of the ABC, Southern Cross Austereo, Yahoo!7 and WAN will be monitoring non-rights holders more comprehensively and stringently than ever before. They will be vigilant in ensuring that their exclusive rights are protected and the IOC will be taking a very serious approach to breaches of the Rules. In the event of breach, accreditations may be revoked, and all action will be taken to ensure The Seven Network’s rights are protected.”

For those not seeking Olympic accreditation, Edgar says it is “accepted practice” to stick to the rules.

But media lawyer Sally McCausland told Crikey that “generally” these types of restrictions do not overrule the fair dealing provisions in the Copyright Act. “The way such rules are enforced if via accreditation, or conditions of entry.”

Still, the IOC reminds the media, breaking the rules one year can affect whether accreditation is every granted to an outlet in future Olympics.

Count those seconds.

One of the most important rules protecting the value of the Olympic broadcast is a rule that says TV stations can only show Olympics material in three programs a day, and that segment can last no longer than three minutes in time (the 3×3 rule). TV broadcasters are also prevented from showing more than a third of any individual event for events that last longer than 15 seconds. Programs with Olympic footage must be spaced at least three hours apart. Olympic footage cannot be shown on digital stations that give viewers a choice of when to watch things. This rule mainly affects the free-to-air broadcasters.

For TV stations that show round-the-clock news (so, Sky News and ABC News 24), it is possible to show Olympic footage in up to six programs a day, but no program can air more than 90 seconds of such footage.

If networks think to get around these restrictions by mixing old and new footage, there’s nothing to be gained there. Archival Olympic footage used comes out of the time limits above.

Always remember: it’s Seven’s show. 

If Seven does not broadcast an event, then neither can anyone else. Non-rights holders face a blanket ban on immediate coverage of anything not aired on any one of Seven’s channels. They can only air this footage at the end of the following day. TV networks and other media outlets have their own cameramen and the like at the Olympics. But any footage shown at all must carry an on-screen credit that says “Courtesy of Seven Network”. And once Seven finishes its broadcast after the Olympics, other networks are only allowed to air Olympics material for 48 hours after. For non-broadcast holders, any interviews with athletes have to be done outside Olympic venues.

No live streams for you. 

Those who do not hold Olympic rights are not allowed to bring professional equipment (TV cameras etc) into Olympic venues. They are allowed to bring equipment to the main press centre, where conferences take place. But even though they have their own footage, they can’t air it live — even press conferences have to be run on a delay of at least 30 minutes.

Using Periscope or other live streaming websites is forbidden to all those accredited to the Games (including athletes) too. The social media policy, which applies to almost everyone, says photos are allowed to take photos outside Olympic venues can be uploaded to social media, but not if it’s for “commercial use”. Photos within Olympic venues however “must only be for personal use and must not be uploaded or shared on any website, blog, social media page, photo video-sharing sites, or other mobile application”.

Radio stations are banned from broadcasting play-by-plays or commentary, on either a live or delayed basis. Radio reporters are not allowed to do call-in reports from inside Olympic venues.

When it comes to the Olympics, the internet isn’t permanent or global. 

Websites are required to geo-block their broadcast of any “Olympic material” (sound or images from any Olympic event) to those just within Australia. There are potentially hefty legal penalties for not doing so:

“Any transmission on the internet or on a mobile platform which is not geoblocked will breach the IOC’s intellectual property rights and the rights of other rights holding broadcasters in other territories. It is the full responsibility of the news organisation transmitting the Olympic Material in accordance with these internet and mobile platform News Access Rules to ensure the territorial integrity of such transmissions.”

Digital news organisations are allowed to upload 180 seconds of Olympic material a day (provided there are no more than three videos a day and none of the videos is longer than a minute). But after this is uploaded, it has to expire or be removed “no later than 24 hours” afterwards. Like with TV, everything must bear an on-screen credit saying “Courtesy of Seven Network”. Also like with TV, stuff not first aired on Seven can’t be put online until the end of the day after the event. All the rules about archival material and how it cuts into the total daily allowance of Olympic material also apply.

Access to Olympic Park. 

Media outlets without the Olympic rights are not allowed to bring equipment into Olympic venues. But a small number each day are allowed to bring equipment into Olympic Park, where they can interview athletes (outside venues), take overlay footage and do pieces to camera (as long as they’re not live and aren’t claimed as live).

RIO2016 will allow up to five domestic TV broadcasters into Olympic park — each permit gives access to three people and one camera. Eight international TV and eight international radio broadcasters will also be allowed in — with three people and a camera for TV and two people and a mic and recorder for radio. These permits are handed out on a daily basis.

While we’re here …

The Olympics also uses the media rules to enforce its advertising rules, which Crikey has covered previously. Media outlets are prevented by the rules from showing any advertising or publicity “which contains any Olympic imagery or Olympic marks”. They also can’t place ads directly before, during or after their Olympic broadcast segment in a way that implies any connection with the Olympics.

Peter Fray

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