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U.S. Olympic Cable Network Put on Hold

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A month after the U.S. Olympic Committee announced plans to launch a new standalone cable network, the organization has reversed course, putting the effort on ice for the foreseeable future.

Following a meeting with International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge in Berlin, USOC chairman Larry Probst put the brakes on the proposed channel. “We will secure the full support and cooperation of the IOC before we move forward with the Olympic Network,” Probst said, in a statement released Sunday. “In order to facilitate a productive dialogue, the USOC has decided to delay further development of the network until we have resolved all issues of concern to the IOC.”

The Rogge-Probst meeting came after the IOC questioned the legality of the USOC’s unilateral decision to launch such a network.

Slated to bow after the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, the U.S. Olympic Network was conceived as a joint venture with cable giant Comcast. USON was to have been slotted on Comcast’s digital classic tier, which serves some 10 million subscribers and plays host to major league sports channels like NFL Network, MLB Network and NBA TV.

While terms of the initial Comcast-USOC arrangement were not disclosed, it was believed that the Olympic Committee would trade a percentage of USON’s ad sales revenue for carriage and promotional consideration. Comcast was to have overseen day-to-day operations of the network.

The IOC’s immediate criticism of the venture was followed by a volley from NBC Universal, which holds the U.S. broadcast rights for the Games through the 2012 London Olympics. NBC questioned the USOC’s decision to team up with Comcast rather than join forces with NBCU’s existing Olympic channel, Universal Sports. That network passes some 55.7 million households and is available in nine of the top 10 DMAs.

Organizers of the city of Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games were quick to praise the USOC’s reassessment of the issue. “We applaud Larry Probst and the USOC for making a strong statement of partnership by stating that the USOC would secure the full support and cooperation of the IOC before moving forward with the Olympic Network,” said Chicago 2016 chairman and CEO Pat Ryan. “It is important not only for the USOC and IOC relationship, but also for the USOC’s role within the Olympic movement.”

The IOC will make its final selection for the host city of the 2016 Games on Oct. 2. Also in the running are Madrid, Tokyo and Rio de Janiero.

Probst said his meeting with Rogge was “productive and positive,” and served as an opportunity to “underscore the USOC's commitment to working together with him and the IOC.” He added that they would meet again soon “to continue these constructive and mutually beneficial discussions.”

Related: Comcast, U.S. Olympic Committee to Launch Cable Network