The Olympic Games could be broadcast on pay-per-view Sky TV in future, the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has hinted.
Mr Hunt, whose close ties with the Murdoch empire have been a source of embarrassment in recent months, announced yesterday that the Government is to launch a review into whether the Olympics should stay on free-to-air television.
The Government recently shelved Labour's plans for a review of "listed events" – known as the crown jewels of sport and including the World Cup, the FA Cup final and the Olympics – but the Culture Secretary said he will revisit the issue after the digital switchover, which concludes later this year.
"We are going to have a look at it," Mr Hunt said."We postponed it until the digital switchover was completed this autumn. We thought that was the right thing to do because the broadcasting landscape is likely to change."
The BBC has been awarded the rights to broadcast the Olympics until 2020, but the likes of Sky would be able to bid for subsequent Games if the status of the Games changes.
When The Sun newspaper came out in favour of the Conservatives during the Labour Party conference in 2009, Gordon Brown's government revealed plans to add the Ashes cricket series to the listed events, thus removing them from Sky TV. In other countries, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) sells Olympic broadcasting rights to pay-TV broadcasters, who produce the coverage, but then subcontract 200 hours of live footage to show on free-to-air stations.
Selling broadcasting rights is worth billions of pounds to the IOC. Along with sponsorship, it is its primary source of income. The IOC has put pressure on the UK – and the BBC – to adopt a model similar to those of other countries, but so far that has not happened.