SBJ/April 28-May 4/Media

NBC brings fresh horses for Derby

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From the debut of Josh Elliott to Olympic hits Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir commenting on fashion, NBC Sports will roll out new elements to complement its traditional, surround-style coverage of the Kentucky Derby.

Network executives believe Saturday’s 140th running of the race will again be one of the highest-rated sports programs of the second quarter of the year. Last year’s race drew 16.2 million viewers, the second most watched Kentucky Derby in 25 years.

The Kentucky Derby draws a crowd on TV — 16.2M viewers last year — and at the track..
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Elliott, who left his role as host of ABC’s “Good Morning America” in March, will do featured segments running during the broadcast on the people who own, train or ride horses. In another new wrinkle, correspondent and former jockey Donna Brothers will give her race reports from atop the new, state-of-the-art 90-foot-high video board Churchill Downs installed at the track.

Churchill Downs Inc. Chairman and CEO Bob Evans attributes the race’s high viewership over the years to NBC’s presentation and cross-promotion. The network has traditionally plugged the Derby, the first leg of racing’s Triple Crown, on programs ranging from the “Today” show to “Access Hollywood” to “The Tonight Show.” Evans said it was a big reason why Churchill Downs signed a 10-year extension with NBC early this year.

Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network, said to expect the same formula of cross-promotion this year.

“You will see heavy ‘Today’ show coverage from it,” Miller said. “You will see coverage across all the different platforms of NBC because it’s a priority for the company. Quite honestly, it could be the highest-rated sports program — not in prime time — of the second quarter.”

NBC’s broadcast on Saturday will be three hours long, from 4 to 7 p.m. ET, but NBC and NBC Sports Network will broadcast a total of 15.5 hours of coverage for the week, starting on Wednesday. Last year, NBC and NBCSN provided 14.5 hours of coverage.

Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir will cast an eye on the Derby’s plethora of headwear.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
This will mark the 14th year that NBC Sports Group’s Rob Hyland has produced the race, and he recalled last week how much coverage has grown.

“My first Kentucky Derby was in 2001 when the show was a 90-minute show with 25 cameras and a handful of reporters,” Hyland said. “And now in 2014, we are going to be producing 15 1/2 hours of coverage over four days and I have more than a dozen announcers in various roles.”

Hyland got the idea to put Brothers, a mainstay of NBC horse racing coverage for years, on top of the new video board about two months ago in meetings at the Louisville, Ky., racetrack. Brothers will wear a helmet camera, and Hyland hopes she will provide a view of the enormity of the video board, as well as the event, which draws more than 150,000 fans.

He also believes the addition of skaters Lapinski and Weir, as well as Elliott, who is well-known to morning show viewers, may add to the race’s strong appeal to women. Last year, the broadcast drew more female than male viewers.

“The inclusion of Johnny, Tara and Josh can only help broaden the scope of this sporting event,” Hyland said. “People who like racing and like major sports events will watch regardless, but I think these three individuals may help attract people who may be flipping through on a Saturday afternoon and stop and stay around a few hours.”


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