SBD/December 5, 2012/Media

NBC's Lazarus Named B&C's Sports TV Exec Of The Year, Looks Ahead To '13

Lazarus says the NHL lockout is "definitely harmful" to NBC Sports Network
NBC Sports Group Chair Mark Lazarus in a "busy first year" on the job oversaw a “record-setting Super Bowl, turned a profit on the London Games despite sniping from critics ... and rebranded the cable network Versus as the NBC Sports Network, venturing onto turf dominated by ESPN,” according to a cover story by Jon Lafayette of BROADCASTING & CABLE. Lazarus, named B&C Sports Executive of the Year, called it "an excellent year" as he discussed future plans with NBC. The following is an excerpt from the Q&A:

Q: Any big changes planned? Or do you feel you have a pretty good playbook?
Lazarus: I think by and large our playbook is solid. But we will continue to try new things and alter things that we think can enhance the consumer experience. ... Sometime in the first quarter of next year we'll start to lay out what our plan will be.

Q: You still have a time-zone difference [with the Olympics], so the issue is still how much stuff do you stream or broadcast when they're live as opposed to holding back for primetime.
Lazarus: We will not go backwards making everything available by live stream. So what we hold and how we program the television network is still what we're discussing. But also we need, from a business point of view, for primetime (to attract viewers).

Q: Where is the NBC Sports Network in terms of where you want it to be?
Lazarus: I've said all along it's a long-term plan. It's going to take us five years. Certainly it's a little slower going than I would have liked. I think that's always the case anytime you're trying to grow something.

Q: How big a problem is not having hockey because of the lockout?
Lazarus: It's down. We've been filling our primetime with some good college basketball and some good college hockey, but the NHL is a staple of our primetime lineup from October until May, and not having it is definitely harmful to us.

Q: What does the national cable sports business look like in your five-year plan for NBC Sports Network?
Lazarus: It's competitive. We want to continue to grow this business and have a long-term asset that's profitable, and that's our intention. ... We surround events and are helping grow the game. So as far as the national landscape, we think there's a role for that kind of business. ... It will work closely with NBC broadcast sports, and we think that one-two punch is a very strong player in the national sports space.

Q: It seems that to grow in this business, you've got to be willing to make big bets and write big checks. Do you get a sense that management -- Steve Burke and Brian Roberts -- are comfortable writing those big checks?
Lazarus: We've probably written 16 or so billion dollars in checks in the last 15 months, so the answer is an unqualified yes. Between the NFL renewal, the Olympics, the NHL, EPL, PGA Tour, Formula 1, we have signed sizable checks. And add to that the FIFA World Cup for Telemundo. ... We won't do it recklessly but we are investors.

Q: Do you think the economics of the regional sports business are changing and supportable?
Lazarus: I think that remains to be seen. ... You have to admire the way Fox is aggressive in attaining their goals.

Q: Do you think there's a way of channeling their big regional investments into some sort of a national presence?
Lazarus: They haven't tipped their hand. I think the way we support our national businesses with our regional sports networks, they will do the same. But those rights don't travel (BROADCASTING & CABLE, 12/3 issue). 
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