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ORF plans Tokyo 2020 remote production amid cost cuts

Austrian public-service broadcaster ORF will turn to remote production where possible for its coverage from next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo as it continues its cost cutting plan in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The broadcaster, hurting from falling advertising revenues and lower licence fee revenues, given exemptions for the unemployed or short-term workers, has already outlined overall cost savings of €75m ($85.3m) to be made by 2021.

The broadcaster has also had to assume additional costs for necessary security and health precautions related to Covid-19 and spent money on additional special programming about the coronavirus crisis.

In a bid to reduce costs, ORF has already opted to surrender its free-to-air Formula 1 exclusivity and will sublicense rights from commercial broadcaster ServusTV from 2021 to 2023 in a deal announced this month.

Costs associated with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which have been postponed for 12 months because of Covid-19, will also be reduced.

Hans Peter Trost, ORF’s head of sport, told Austria’s Kurier newspaper: “Digitalisation makes it possible to a large extent to use remote production for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

“This means that there is a substantially smaller number of employees on site, the director is mostly in Vienna and the camera images will be edited in real time here in Vienna.

“This saves a lot of money, for example in travel expenses.”

ORF has already had to decide which sports will offer medal hopes for Austria in order for the broadcaster to be on site, Trost added. Austria won just one medal at Rio de Janeiro’s 2016 Olympics, as Thomas Zajac and Tanja Frank won bronze in sailing’s Nacra 17 class.

ORF acquired exclusive free-to-air rights to Tokyo 2020 (and the 2018 winter Olympics) in a sublicensing deal with rights-holder Discovery signed in 2016.

F1, Austrian Bundesliga, and tennis

ServusTV’s new deal with F1 runs from 2021 to 2023 and its sublicensing deal with ORF also runs for the duration of the contract. The exact split of races aired will be announced before the start of each F1 season but both broadcasters will air live coverage of the Austrian Grand Prix.

Red Bull Media-owned ServusTV and ORF’s F1 rights from 2021 will be non-exclusive as Sky Deutschland renewed pay-television rights in Germany, Austria and Switzerland last month. F1 TV Pro, the property’s premium OTT package, will also remain available in Austria.

Trost told the Kurier that ORF had actively approached ServusTV about a rights deal. He said: “ORF’s situation is well known – we need to count every Euro not only twice but many times, and think carefully about where and how the use of licence fee money is justifiable.”

Trost also cited the example of RTL, the German free-to-air commercial broadcaster, which has lost its F1 coverage from 2021 onwards after the exclusive deal secured by Sky.

He warned: “It is no longer a matter of course that a free-to-air broadcaster – whether public or private – can offer high-profile sports. This is also increasingly true in Austria.”

News of the dilution of ORF’s F1 rights coincided with its acquisition of rights to Extreme E, the electric SUV off-road racing series, from 2021 to 2023.

Trost acknowledged that Extreme E was not designed to “replace” the gap left by the reduced motorsport output, but said that “it is our job to explore the market” and “see what is new”. American football, basketball and boxing rights would also potentially be of interest, according to Trost.

Sunday’s Styrian Grand Prix in Austria, the second stop on the revamped 2020 F1 calendar, was watched by an average of 691,000 viewers on ORF. The average viewing share was 49 per cent.

Trost also reiterated ORF’s stance that the broadcaster would be very unlikely to carry on its live Austrian Bundesliga coverage next season.

The public broadcaster acquired non-exclusive rights to 15 live matches on the restart of the 2019-20 season after the Covid 19-related suspension. All the matches were simulcast by Sky, which holds exclusive global rights to the league in a four-season deal, from 2018-19 to 2021-22 (with an option for a further four seasons).

Trost said that “he cannot imagine – as ORF director general [Alexander] Wrabetz has also indicated – that we will find a way to additionally manage live Bundesliga matches”.

Sky had come under pressure from Austrian politicians to make some matches free-to-air at the league’s restart.

The head of sport also flagged up ORF’s interest in tennis rights despite the grip held on the free-to-air rights by ServusTV amid national interest in Austrian star Dominic Thiem.

Trost noted: “We are also looking for alternatives in this area. In tennis, however, one slowly notices that sponsors are beginning to influence the award of broadcast rights.”

ORF does hold rights to the French Open, one of the four tennis ‘grand slams’, until 2021.