NBCUniversal is launching a new cable network that will burn the Olympic torch year-round.
The network, announced Thursday, will be called the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, and will feature Olympic sporting events and programming from around the world with an emphasis on U.S. athletes and teams.
NBCUniversal is looking to the network as a way to promote and build interest in the Games and the athletes in the two years between each Olympics.
“From a production and programming standpoint, it’s tremendous to have the real estate to spread the gospel outside of two weeks every two years,” said Jim Bell, executive producer of NBC’s Olympics coverage.
NBCUniversal is calling the network a “partnership” with the International Olympic Committee and the United States Olympic Committee, but did not disclose the ownership structure of the new entity. Much of the programming will be live Olympic sports coverage. There will also be Olympics-related programs commissioned for the channel, along with archival footage and films from the libraries of NBC Sports and the IOC.
The Olympic Channel will be carried by AT&T and DirecTV when it launches in the second half of 2017. Further distribution will be included in future deals that NBCUniversal negotiates with cable and satellite service providers for its package of cable channels. Executives did not provide a projection of how many homes the channel will reach beyond AT&T and DirecTV customers.
“We are confident that given the vast interest in the Olympics and the rich content made available that distributors will embrace this opportunity,” said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics.
The Olympic Channel will only be available to cable and satellite customers and not as a standalone service for streaming video users. Some of the content on the channel will be available on other streaming platforms such as NBCSports.com.
NBCUniversal has invested $12 billion in the U.S. television rights to the Olympic Games through 2032. The Summer Games in Rio fell short of ratings expectations this past summer as the average broadcast TV audience of 25.4 million was the smallest since 2004.
But the audiences for the Games were still far bigger than what a vast majority of all other TV programs now get. Even with the lower-than-anticipated ratings, NBCUniversal executives said they made a $250-million profit on the Games this past summer due to strong advertiser demand for the telecasts.
The Olympic Channel will not program any Olympic coverage during the the weeks the Games are held. NBCUniversal airs the Games on its broadcast networks and over a number of its a cable channels including NBC Sports Network.
Official sponsors of the Olympic Games coverage will get first crack at the advertising on the Olympic Channel. But sporting events that have existing sponsors will also have the opportunity to buy commercials on the network.