Six Caribbean teams are competing in this year's winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia: Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, Jamaica, the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands. Naturally, sports fans throughout the region want to watch – but there's a problem. SportsMax, a premium subscription-based television station, has been awarded exclusive rights to the 2014 Sochi games in the Caribbean. “Inside The Games” reported on the details:
The deal, announced between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Media Content Ltd (IMC), the parent company of SportsMax, is applicable for 21 nations and territories ranging from Anguilla to Trinidad and Tobago.
It consists of exclusive English language broadcast rights on all media platforms, with live coverage to be provided on both SportsMax and SportsMax2 for the duration of the Games when they get underway in Sochi.
Columbus Communications, owners of the Flow cable network which operates in several Caribbean territories, took to its social media outlets to address the issue:
Flow Fans, please be advised that SportsMax holds the exclusive broadcast rights to the ‘2014 Winter Olympics’ in the Caribbean for the period February 7th to 23rd 2014. Olympic programming will be broadcast mainly on Sportsmax 1 with some content on Sportsmax 2. Consequently, we are legally required to blackout the coverage of the games on all channels including but not limited to NBC & CBC who will be carrying portions of the SOCHI games. During the blackout periods the affected channels will carry a notice to our customers advising of the blackout requirement and directing you to SportsMax.
We understand the inconvenience that this issue poses and are aware and acknowledge that blocked content is disruptive for our viewers, however we MUST comply. Once the broadcast rights to air a program is (sic) purchased we are obligated to block out that program (when requested) as both a legal and regulatory (TATT) obligation. Failing to comply could lead to legal actions against Columbus Communications Trinidad Limited. This arrangement is not unique to Trinidad, all video service providers worldwide will be required to take similar action based on the Network which has purchased the rights in that country.
Irate Jamaicans posted on Flow Jamaica's Facebook page about having to pay to watch their team parading in the opening ceremony and competing in the games. Diego Armando Thomas had this to say:
So because i don't have the #SportsMax package on #Flow I am not allowed to watch the #Olympics? This is BULL. You block the channels am paying for? Really!!!
Another viewer, David Valentine, urged Jamaicans to take action by writing to the Jamaican Broadcast Commission:
This is a sheg up situation, taking advantage of the people who no have no options. The blasted Olympics should not be held ransom, by forcing people to pay for some purely subscriber based channel. Imagine if Showtime did have the exclusive rights to the Olympics? Something wrong with this blow wow picture man. Them really corrupted. PEOPLE WRITE TO THE BROADCAST COMMISION!!
Others expressed their disgust on Twitter:
— Kimberly (@K_Wil_) February 7, 2014
One viewer who subscribed to the SportsMax service was dissatisfied with the coverage of the opening ceremony:
I'm tryin to watch the dam Winter Olympics opening ceremony and these assholes on #SportsMax a chat STFU!!!’ And come off my screen!!!
— Lexy Nash (@WhoDatLexy876) February 7, 2014
Competitor cable provider Lime has been offering viewers in some of the countries in which it operates, a free trial of SportsMax for the duration of the games:
The issue of broadcast rights for local television stations versus those of the cable company was discussed in this post:
Television programmes generate advertising revenue for broadcasters such as TV6 and CNC3. While customers pay cable providers for premium channels, it should be noted that the programmes which occupy the schedules on these channels are governed by separate contracts.
While SportsMax is indigenous to the region, it is a pay-per-view service, and some netizens have complained about the failure of free-to-air broadcasters to obtain rights to the games. Yvon Tripper commented on an article in the Bermuda Royal Gazette:
IOC simply gives rights to the highest bidder. Nothing is stopping a Bermuda-based broadcaster from asking the IOC for Bermuda-only rights, and then just using the American and Canadian feeds. If no one in Bermuda pays for broadcast rights for the island's Olympic coverage rights, then there's no point in complaining when someone else does. The IOC would be happy to exclude Bermuda from the Caribbean region if it mean that they got more money — it's all about the Redbirds, baby.
While Trinidad and Tobago is not competing in the games, none of the terrestrial broadcasters have purchased rights to the games, forcing interested viewers to subscribe to SportsMax for live coverage. Annoyed cable subscribers vented their feelings on Twitter:
@Flowtt well give us Sportsmax free during that time
— ⚽Mark De Silva⚽ (@Markanthonysilv) February 7, 2014
The Sochi Games run until February 23, 2014.