Cable Operators

NBC Carves Olympian Role for Sports Net

4/02/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

NBC Sports Network will take Olympic size
steps with the London Games this summer.

NBCUniversal’s national cable sports network will join NBC
as the centerpieces of Olympic Games coverage from July 27 to
August 12, the programmer’s top sports executive says.

“NBC Sports Network will have more hours of Olympic coverage
than any cable network has ever had,” NBC Sports Group
chairman Mark Lazarus told Multichannel News in an interview
last week.

While scheduling is still being finalized, NBC Sports Network
could deliver as many as 300 hours from London.

Essentially, the sports outlet, rebranded from Versus on Jan.
2 and reshaped through an extensive
programming revamp that has initially
shed some viewers, will assume the role
USA Network has played since the Athens
Games in 2004.

U.S. TEAM SPORTS HQ

“NBC Sports Network will be the home
for U.S. team sports,” Lazarus said, noting
that all of the domestic men’s and
women’s basketball games (save for the
finals, on NBC), women’s soccer, volleyball,
field hockey and water polo, among
others, will air on the service.

“There’s a lot of content, all with a view
toward driving viewership to the NBC
broadcasts in primetime,” Lazarus said.

Similarly, NBC Sports Network will be home to plenty of
Olympic Trials fare in the months ahead, a move that will not
only enhance its programming lineup, but promote the upcoming
games.

In addition to linear coverage via other NBCU networks, as
well as extensive action, athlete profiles and other information
on NBCOlympics.com, distributors
can expect dedicated basketball
and soccer channels and video-ondemand
content.

“It’s really for them to build and
serve their audiences,” Lazarus said.

NBC Sports Group is working with
parent Comcast and other distributors
on VOD, as well. “Whatever we
do with Comcast we will make that
available, as part of our obligations,
to other affiliates.”

NBC Sports Network will be “an important part of the Olympic
puzzle” throughout the decade, as NBCU, via a $4.4 billion
bid for a quartet of quadrennials, holds the
Games rights until 2020.

“The Olympics will raise the collective consciousness
of NBC Sports Network among both
hardcore and casual sports fans, which is what
we’re trying to do every day,” Lazarus said. “The
Olympics is one of the last true gathering moments
in the media landscape. It will serve as a
tool to show that NBC Sports Network is a valuable
service, one that viewers, distributors and
marketers should care about.”

Fewer viewers watched the network in the
first quarter, though.

Despite improving production values across
the board and increasing the level of news and information
through programming involving Bob
Costas and the daily SportsTalk franchise, NBC
Sports Network sustained 14% and 16% declines in total-day and
primetime audiences, respectively, in the January-March period
compared with a year ago.

The network, which has enacted a five-year plan aimed at
adding rights and buttressing its position in the daily sports
analysis space, had revamped 40% of its programming lineup,
including a reduction in popular
outdoor fare.

“This is a less-is-more strategy,”
Lazarus said. “Our ratings
may be down, but our business
is better, and we’re building the
foundation. We think our advertisers
and distributors will tell
you we’re doing some interesting
things.”

The channel rang up its bestever
first quarter on Madison Avenue
and has lifted its base to just under 80 million homes,
he said.

With a monthly subscriber license fee now in the 30-cent
range, the network could count 90 million subs by 2015,
Lazarus said, calling that “a stretch goal.”

NHL: GREAT EXPECTATIONS

In the meantime, NBC Sports Group expects a sizable Nielsen
uptick with the upcoming 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Under a $2 billion, 10-year deal with the league, NBC Sports
Network and NBC, with an assist from CNBC and NHL Network,
will offer exclusive national coverage of the contests from
the second round forward. (Regional sports networks were still
in that round’s rights mix last year). Lazarus also said bringing
ad sales under NBCU’s roof has lit more budget lamps.

Overall, Lazarus is confident NBC Sports Network is on the
right path.

“We have to put programming on NBC Sports Network
that people care about,” he said. “Regular-season and exclusive
playoff hockey, people care about. Major League Soccer,
Tour de France and the Izod Indy Car series, people care about
it. The Olympic Games, people care about it.

“As we put all the pieces together, things they can’t find anywhere
else, and build daily relevant programming around it,
we’ll build value.”

September