SBJ/September 26-October 2, 2011/In-Depth

NBC coverage to stress production consistency

For a glimpse at what the new NHL-NBC deal will look like on television, NBC executives suggest you check out the end of last season.

NBC and Versus will carry more games and produce more shoulder programming around the NHL than ever before. But NBC’s top programming executive said he’s most excited about the production consistency across both channels that the group is trying to achieve.

“What’s new and fun and exciting is actually what’s old,” said Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and Versus. “When you have a sport as important as the NHL and passionate fans that are tuning in, they appreciate the consistent look and feel.”

NBC
Comcast’s recent acquisition of NBC means that games shown on Versus and NBC will look the same. The upcoming season will also feature more shoulder programming.
That means games on NBC will look exactly like games on Versus. That could not have happened at the start of last season, before Comcast’s NBC acquisition became official and Versus and NBC Sports’ NHL efforts were run by separate production and ad sales teams. Now, under the umbrella of NBC Sports, the two channels can produce with the same consistency.

Another change that will allow Versus and NBC to produce much more hockey programming this year is a 10-year, $187 million deal the NHL signed with NBC in the spring.

“This season, we’re looking to reach beyond the hockey fan,” said John Collins, the NHL’s chief operating officer. “The most important thing for the league right now is to be relevant to the broader sports fan.”

NBC and the NHL believe the key to getting that fan is through more content, more unified marketing and a combined sales effort.

NBC and Versus will split 102 regular-season games: 12 on NBC and 90 on Versus, which will be renamed NBC Sports Network in early January. Last season, the two networks combined for 64 windows.

NBC will carry the Winter Classic, of course. But this year, the network is timing Versus’ name change to NBC Sports Network around the event. The network also plans to produce a national game the Friday after Thanksgiving that it hopes will rival the Winter Classic in popularity.

The added games will be complemented by more shoulder programming. NBC has committed to carrying a pregame and postgame show, “NHL Live,” around each game. Every Wednesday during the regular season, the last 30 minutes of “NBC Sports Talk” will be devoted to NHL commentary. Versus also will produce “NHL Overtime,” with Bill Patrick and Jeremy Roenick.

“The shoulder programming around hockey sends a message that we are the TV home for the NHL,” Miller said.
But it’s the consistency that Miller is particularly excited about. That means the announcing team of Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire will call games on the “Game of the Week” telecasts on NBC, as well as Versus’ Wednesday night game.

That consistency also is helping ad sales. In July, the NHL gave NBC oversight of media sales for the league’s national platforms through 2015-16. NBC Sports Group absorbed some NHL media sales employees as part of the deal.

“The interaction with the customer is easier,” said Seth Winter, NBC’s senior vice president of group sales and marketing. “We are operating in an ultimate harmonious state right now.”

Winter would not give specifics, saying that ad sales for NHL games are pacing well ahead of last year, with most advertisers bundling the sale with another sports property on NBC.

“We’re asking people to participate in a deeper way,” Winter said, “We always look to do broader deals.”

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