SBD/Issue 114/Olympics

ESPN Would End Tape Delay If It Won Olympic Broadcast Rights

Skipper Does Not Believe ESPN Would Air
Olympics On Delay Is It Gains Rights
Olympic fans who "crave the chance to see everything live ... may find an ally in ESPN," which would "discontinue the tape-delay template" if it wins the U.S. media rights to the '14 Sochi and '16 Rio de Janeiro Games, according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. ESPN Exec VP/Content John Skipper said, "I don't think nonlive is sports fan-friendly. ... It's hard for me to imagine, in our culture, not showing events live." But NBC execs indicated that they "believe that its broadcast-focused model works and they do not envision a radical shift in 2012." NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel: "A tremendous amount of time and experience goes into how we plan the Olympics. Quite frankly, we're pleased with the results." He added, "It's very challenging to capture the American audience for 17 days, and many of us have been doing this since 1992, some since 1988. ... The market has told us loud and clear that it places the most value on the big, diverse audience that gathers in front of the television at night. If the market ever suggests a shift, we're very nimble. ... When will prime time take on less significance than it does now? I don't know." But Skipper said he does not see "any negative effect of running" all events live. Skipper: "If you had a sports-fan presentation for downhill skiing, I don't think you'd have less viewers." Meanwhile, Ponturo Management Group CEO Tony Ponturo believes that the "full use of ESPN's assets could 'at least maintain' the level of ad revenue generated by NBC" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/25).

KEEPING UP WITH THE TIMES: Skipper said of NBC's Olympics coverage, "I believe the restrictive manner in which they treat all aspects of the Olympics is very old school and I think, ultimately, not fan friendly. I think ultimately you could generate more interest in the Olympics and Olympic sports if we, for instance, had the opportunity to basically report on it, show videos, get people excited. At this point, what we have access to is very limited and it's a very old-fashioned idea." Skipper added, "We believe in live. We just think at this point with technology and people's expectations and the ability to get instant information, we believe in live." ESPN Exec VP & Exec Editor John Walsh said, "Everybody's going to be converted to currency because they're not going to stand for it but I think it's going to take one more Olympics and then the game will be done. But (NBC's) not dumb. They're making calculated decisions about advertising dollars in prime time. That's what they're doing." Skipper said of NBC, "One thing they have to do is maximize revenue and that drives everything they're doing. They believe by time shifting events they can aggregate a bigger audience and sell more ads. ... So there's a method to it. It's not complete madness. It is simply anachronistic" (, 2/23). NBC Senior VP/Strategic Marketing, Promotions & Communications Mike McCarley said, “As policy we never discuss deal strategy, but much more importantly all the focus right now should be on telling the stories of the athletes of the world" (THE DAILY).

GAMES CHANGER:'s Frank Deford wrote these "next few nights are probably the swan song for NBC's winter bacchanalia." ESPN, "with all its cable riches, will undoubtedly win the contract" to broadcast the '14 and '16 Games. Deford: "At least maybe ESPN can get by with fewer commercials. ... These Winter Games have been ridiculous. The commercials have just taken so much spirit out of the rhythm of the visual experience." Meanwhile, Deford noted it is worth acknowledging that if NBC "does lose the Olympics, we lose Bob Costas as the interlocutor." ESPN does not have "anybody even near his ability to do this unique thing he does so well, night after night" (, 2/24).

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