The London Games will be “a monumental experiment for network television in the digital age,” and NBC has called the Olympics its “billion-dollar lab,” according to Christopher Stewart of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. NBC execs have decided to “do away with the old formula of keeping big events under wraps until its prime-time evening broadcast.” NBCUniversal President & CEO Steve Burke said, “There are traditionalists who say, ‘This will cannibalize us.’” Burke is “banking that the chatter at the water cooler, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and the like, will encourage viewers to tune into the network’s taped broadcast that night.” Burke: “If someone is ambitious enough to get up at six in the morning to see the 10,000 meter race walk, and they see it and it’s good, they’ll tell 10 friends ‘You should watch the race walk at prime time.’ It’s hard for me to believe that someone is going to watch streaming and not be a booster of what they saw more times than not.” Stewart noted the coverage change was “cemented at a meeting of top Comcast and NBC executives in New York on a spring Sunday last year.” NBC Sports Group Chair Mark Lazarus, who led the meeting, said, “We should commit to running every event live.” The May 22, 2011 meeting at NBC in Manhattan’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza “stretched for hours.” Former NBC Sports Group Chair Dick Ebersol “had resigned his post three days earlier.”Comcast hopes the Olympics “will help revitalize NBC’s prime time schedule which has lagged behind in last place for years.” Comcast is also using the Olympics “to drive adoption of a three-year-old effort known as TV Everywhere.” In addition, Comcast hopes the coverage “will elevate its newly formed NBC Sports Group.” NBC is “prepared to fight any online piracy that would dilute viewership.” Lazarus said, “I don’t pretend everything will be perfect. But we have the opportunity and obligation to try to learn as much as we can” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 7/14).
ROOT FOR THE HOME TEAM: NEWSWEEK’s Howard Kurtz writes Lazarus is “unashamed to be rooting for the red, white, and blue.” Lazarus said that the Olympics for an American audience are “imbued with a strong dose of ‘nationalism,’ where ‘people gather around to cheer for their country.’” Lazarus: “We hope the U.S. team performs well. People get excited about that.” Kurtz notes the excitement is “good for ratings.” Lazarus said NBC’s job during the Games is to “build people up.” His perspective is “not how journalists generally view their mission,” but NBC “seems committed to making this a feel-good event.” NBC London Olympics Exec Producer Jim Bell said, “People want hope, and they want positive stories” (NEWSWEEK, 7/16 issue).
ESPN has agreed “to pay an average of $80 million a year for the Rose Bowl,” which could “push the price tag for the playoffs media rights as high as $600 million for an all-in package that includes a championship game, two semifinals and four major bowls each season,” according to sources cited by Smith & Ourand of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. ESPN’s deal with the Rose Bowl “runs from 2015 through 2026, making it concurrent with the new playoff structure.” The Rose Bowl’s new $80M annual rights fee “represents a 167 percent jump from the $30 million the network currently pays.” ESPN, the current BCS partner, will get “first crack at the championship game and semifinals this fall during a 30-day negotiating window.” If a deal “can’t be struck, the package would then go to the open market where Fox Sports and other networks will be waiting.” Smith & Ourand note the new Champions and Orange bowls "will have signed their own separate TV contracts.” The SEC and Big 12 will “jointly negotiate the Champions bowl deal," which means those bowls "would not be included in the overall playoff package.” Sources said that the Champions is “expected to generate an annual rights fee similar to the Rose Bowl, while the Orange Bowl value is expected to be less.” It is “hard to put a value on the Orange Bowl now because the ACC does not have a permanent opponent in place for the game.” The hodgepodge of “what eventually will be four separate contracts -- one for each of the three bowls, plus the playoffs -- illustrates how convoluted the financial side of the new playoff structure remains” (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 7/16 issue).
USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand reports ESPN today will formally announce that Basketball HOFer Bill Walton is rejoining the net to call "Pac-12 basketball games as ESPN expands its coverage of the league through a new deal." Walton also "will join the conference's soon-to-launch regional network and will do occasional Sacramento Kings local game broadcasts." Asked how often he will work games, Walton "sounds as if he's not sure or doesn't care or both," and he "isn't worried about whom he'll work with on-air." Walton left his job as lead NBA analyst in '07 after he "collapsed in an airport" (USA TODAY, 7/16).
NEW HIRES AT GOLF CHANNEL: Golf Channel has hired former SI writer Damon Hack and Ryan Burr, a studio host from ESPN. Hack will work across many of Golf Channel’s platforms, including TV shows “Morning Drive,” “Grey Goose 19th Hole,” and “Golf Central” where he will serve as an insider. Appearances on NBC Sports Network are part of his deal as well. Burr spent seven years at ESPN and will be a host for “Golf Central” and other shows from the network’s Orlando HQs. These hires come on the heels of six consecutive quarters of record growth since becoming part of the NBC Sports Group (Golf Channel).
A WELCOMED VOICE: In Buffalo, Greg Connors noted the BBC's Peter Alliss during ESPN's coverage of the British Open will again make “daily appearances with ESPN's team in the broadcast booth.” ESPN’s Mike Tirico, who will anchor the daily coverage, said, "Peter can say more with less, and sometimes he will go on and on about people eating ice cream, people passed out because they were drinking too much on a hill, dogs running on the beach, and those are things that only Peter could do, and he does them with aplomb, with great use of the language.” He added, "But what always gets lost is Peter's great depth of knowledge of the game and where it's come from.” Tirico: “For us to have Peter still as a part of our group when he comes over from the BBC is one of the things I look forward to every summer" (BUFFALO NEWS, 7/15).