Websites will be banned from using or showing video clips of Olympic events for the next decade.

The restriction, which is being imposed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is designed to protect the substantial investments made by national broadcasters who do not want their television and radio audiences undermined by internet coverage.

The restriction, which is being imposed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is designed to protect the substantial investments made by national broadcasters who do not want their television and radio audiences undermined by internet coverage.

The IOC hired a team of “surfing lawyers” to police websites during the Sydney games and threatened legal action where unauthorised content was discovered.

The Olympic committee says the net will be prevented from carrying video and audio streams until websites can guarantee that only those people in the same country as the site can view the content.

News organisations have reacted angrily to the IOC’s position and experts and analysts have cast doubt on the ability of the IOC to police coverage of the games as the web audience grows and technology improves.

Particular territories

On Monday and Tuesday this week, the IOC is hosting a conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, to debate the future of sport and new media such as the internet and mobile telephone networks.

The issue is a pressing one for the IOC which, thanks to contracts covering broadcast rights signed before the internet became popular, was forced to crack down on sports websites covering the Sydney games.

Now, the IOC has revealed that it has no plans to change this tough policy before the 2010 Winter Olympics.

“For the games in 2004, 6 and 8, broadcast rights and internet rights have been granted to particular broadcasters in particular territories,” said Dick Pound, chairman of the IOC marketing commission and chairman of the IOC internet working group.

Mr Pound said the IOC would look again at contracts if innovations in new media technology made it necessary. But he warned until that happened, its tough policy would stay in place.

“Unless and until you can guarantee your internet signal is only available within your territory, you cannot put video on your website,” he said. “We’re going to go forward with that and we’re going to see how it evolves.”

Some news organisations are already voicing their objections to the IOC policy.

“It should not be the job of the IOC to determine what avenues individuals should go down to watch what they want,” said Phillip Melchior, managing director of Reuters Media, which took the IOC to court to get better access to the Sydney games.

Napster lessons

Analysts have also questioned whether the IOC can successfully police the growing numbers of sites that focus on sports.

“Any business models that depend on controlling content are doomed,” said Neil Bradford, managing director of Forrester Research UK. He cited the example of the song-swapping internet system Napster, which has shaken the music industry to its core.

Mr Bradford said the internet changed the way fans followed their favourite sports and athletes. Research has revealed that 50% of people watching the Olympics were using the net at the same time to get at the background and statistics of events.

Many people who use the net to follow sport like to create their own experience rather than watch highlights on TV, he said. As the internet and TV started to converge, Mr Bradford said more and more people would seek this experience.

“You cannot put a lid on this, you cannot police it,” said Phil Dwyer, of Jupiter Research Europe. He urged the IOC to split net rights and TV rights and to serve fans better.

Author: Mark Ward

News Service: BBC News Online

URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/low/english/sci/tech/newsid_1054000/1054108.stm