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NBC’s Olympics rights create limitations for ESPN, other networks

Water polo balls with the Rio 2016 logo

Water polo balls with the Rio 2016 logo float in the pool during a training match at the Olympic Aquatic Stadium ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug. 3, 2016. Credit: EPA / DEAN LEWINS

For many sports fans, ESPN long has been the default option for news and highlights, a role the network takes pride – and expends vast resources – in filling.

But because of restrictions from non-ESPN rightsholders, that job sometimes gets complicated, perhaps most notably and awkwardly at the Olympics.

ESPN covers them, sort of. But NBC pays the IOC a great deal of money for the right to exclusive live content, and severe limits on the use of after-the-fact video.

In advance of this year’s Games, which open Friday night, ESPN decided to lay out many of those limitations in a story posted on its media relations blog.

According to ESPN, the restrictions that it and other non-NBC news outlets in the United States must abide by began Wednesday and run until 24 hours after the Closing Ceremonies on Aug. 21.

“SportsCenter” and other ESPN shows may not air any Olympic highlights until NBC’s prime time coverage ends – on the West Coast. That means approximately 3 a.m. Eastern Time.

Also, no one can show video from a news conference until 30 minutes after the conclusion of the conference.

Once that 3 a.m. restriction passes, ESPN can show Olympic video on its news programs, but only to a maximum of six minutes per show, and only for 72 hours after the first use of such video is permitted.

That is why you can expect to see lots of still pictures of Olympians over the next two weeks on ESPN, as is the case for other major events for which it does not have rights, such as the soccer World Cup and NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

“While we’re limited in what we can do from the perspective of traditional highlights, we’re very confident that our team of journalists will provide exceptional, indispensable coverage of the Rio Games — live and on-demand — across every ESPN platform,” ESPN senior vice president Rob King said in the network’s post.

ESPN will have daily onsite reporting from Rio, including for the first time in its history entire editions of “SportsCenter” that originate from the Olympic site.

The 10 a.m. edition of the show, hosted by Hannah Storm, will air daily from Rio from Aug. 8 to Aug. 12.

“SportsCenter Face to Face” will include interviews with basketball players Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving, swimmer Katie Ledecky, soccer players Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan, golfer Bubba Watson and others.

“When I started out my career, one of my main goals was to broadcast an Olympic Games, and this will be my fifth overall, but first since Sydney in 2002,” Storm said in a news release.

“There’s nothing like an Olympics with the stories, the spectacle, the world coming together in one place, and the pride and the pressure of competing in what many cases is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

New York Sports