10/26/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Broadcasters Eye 2014, 2016 Olympics: Will Digital Revenue Make It Worth It?

Four weeks after the Chinese extinguished the Olympic flame, U.S. broadcasters are crunching a new set of numbers in anticipation of a bidding war next year for media rights to the Games in 2014 and 2016.

"We've all stopped and reached for our calculators again," said David Hill, chief executive of News Corp.'s Fox Sports.

The shift comes after General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal unit rewrote the playbook for selling the Games across multiple media platforms. The unit garnered 214 million unique television viewers for the Beijing Games, a record that surprised Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports and Olympics.

Broadcasters are assessing whether the London Games will generate a lucrative revenue stream from digital advertising in the wake of millions of online visitors to NBC's Beijing coverage.

Now sports broadcasters are trying to evaluate that audience, including the 52 million unique visitors to NBC's Olympics Web site and 75 million video streams. Was it thanks to viewers' interest in China or swimmer Michael Phelps's historic performance? After years of declining ratings, can the Olympics generate a major revenue stream from digital advertising?

"That is the billion-dollar question," Mr. Hill said.

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