Almanack: Will Sydney be served on a dish?

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The Independent Online
WHEN Sky Sports claimed recently, 'We're interested in having all top-quality sports,' old- fashioned armchair fans quaked. But for the time being the Olympics, at least, are safe from the dish-dealing hordes. The BBC will cover Atlanta through the European Broadcasting Union, an international grouping of public service broadcasters who bid for Olympic rights on their behalf. Sky is not a member of the EBU - it does not meet their strict 'public service' obligations.

However, Sydney Live On Sky in the year 2000 is not out of the question. The price (Atlanta cost the EBU dollars 250m) may rule out a solo bid, but one possible plan would involve a consortium of satellite channels bidding against the EBU.

It seems that Sky's potential allies are ready for the challenge. One is the Dutch-based satellite company FilmNet, whose previous sports broadcasts include Belgian league football and the European volleyball championship (Holland came second). 'This is interesting,' Julian Clover of Cable and Satellite Express says. 'FilmNet has developed its service immensely recently, and started to look for more sport. Films and sport sell satellite TVs.'

FilmNet will soon be launching its own sports channel, and Steven de Cleen, their product manager for sport, is bullish. Should the satellite companies go after the Sydney Olympics? 'Definitely. The only thing we need to do is unite like the EBU. It's very straightforward, very easy. The parties and structures are there.'

At the moment all this is theoretical. But it is believed in Geneva that the EBU may have been outbid in the past for the Olympics, only to win the rights because the IOC appreciated the geographical exposure they offer. The EBU expect to face powerful counterbids for Sydney. Will they win? 'We are very confident,' their spokesman Jean-Pierre Julien says. 'We don't win all battles - but our wallet is very, very ample.'

Netherlandish televisual imports have a chequered history in Britain. And the leotards and lunch-boxes of Satellite Sydney 2000 may raise as many establishment hackles as Red Hot Dutch.