USOC formally ends plans for Olympic network

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DENVER (AP) — The U.S. Olympic Committee has formally halted plans to start its own network, an idea that was widely criticized by international Olympic officials who saw it as a potential threat to their multibillion-dollar contract with NBC.

The decision, not a surprise, was made last week, and characterized by the USOC as the natural progression from a deal chairman Larry Probst struck with International Olympic Committee officials last August.

"This is really just a formal acknowledgment of a decision made eight months ago," USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said Wednesday. "The timing for the network no longer made sense"

The USOC was going to partner with Comcast to form a network that would carry 24-hour Olympic-themed programming. That was seen as a possible threat to NBC, which owns rights to the Olympics and many of its related events through 2012.

NBC and Comcast recently announced plans to merge, which could have made the plan more workable, but possibly less necessary, because NBC already has an Olympic-themed network, Universal Sports, on cable.

The USOC was taken aback by negative reaction it received from the IOC when it announced the plan last summer. That led to Probst meeting with IOC president Jacques Rogge in August and promising not to pursue anything without IOC approval.

NBC paid $2 billion to televise the 2010 and 2012 Olympics. The bidding for the American TV rights for 2014 and 2016 has not taken place yet, and the IOC is sensitive to anything that might make the rights seem less valuable or antagonize NBC, which provides the biggest chunk of the IOC's budget through the current TV contract.

There was a big disagreement over how an entity that competed with NBC, but also tried to increase awareness of the Olympics during non-Olympic years, would affect NBC and its cable outlets.

Ideas for Olympic networks have been floated in other countries, as well, but none was attacked as harshly as the USOC's plan.