Internet experts have warned the Swiss-based International Olympic Committee that it urgently needs to separate Internet rights from television rights.
At the beginning of a two-day conference in Lausanne, web executives on Monday criticized the IOC for restricting video rights to broadcasters, rather than allowing wider Internet distribution.
Organised by the IOC, the meeting brings together 600 people from the worlds of international business, sport and the Internet, with a view to assessing how the business of sport can take advantage of the new media revolution.
"Separate your Internet rights from your TV rights," said Neil Bradford, managing director of Forrester Research Ltd., at the opening of the conference.
Bradford and other new media experts warned Olympic officials that Internet companies and sports fans would likely find ways of bypassing the territorial restrictions currently in place.
IOC officials have acknowledged the organisation faces challenges to its existing licenses, but they say it is unlikely that they will be changed before 2008.
Under those rules, exclusive TV rights for the Sydney Olympics were sold to NBC in the United States, for $705 million (SFr1.237 billion). The same company will pay nearly $900 million for the TV rights to the next Games in 2004.
Sports leaders fear the growing interest in Internet sports services could undermine the value of the television contracts.
"Until the technology changes to allow the video to be restricted, we have a problem," said Dick Pound, chairman of the IOC's Internet group.
"Historically, we have sold rights in a particular territory," he said, adding: "Unless and until you can guarantee that the signal will be restricted to your territory, then you cannot put real time video or real time audio on the Internet."
New media executives want access not only to video, but also to accreditation, which was largely denied to independent web companies at Sydney.
But, Pound made it clear the IOC would not be selling separate Internet rights, and would continue contracts with television partners.
During the Sydney Games, the IOC allowed online video coverage of events only by NBC, and then only on a 24-hour delay to a highly restricted audience.
However, industry experts agree that live video delivery via new media will not be possible until there is a wider use of technologies that allow quicker access to large amounts of material.
swissinfo with agencies
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