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Volume 20 No. 42
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Thinning the story file before getting on the plane for London

John Ourand
I’m about to head over to London to cover the Olympics for the next week, so I thought I’d take a moment to empty my notebook and write about a couple of stories that aren’t going to hold until I get back.

CBS Sports Network is close to a deal that would help it gain 1 million more subscribers on Time Warner Cable systems in California and Hawaii, sources say. Time Warner Cable gets access to some Mountain West Conference football games for its new regional sports networks that are launching in Southern California and Hawaii this fall (San Diego State and Hawaii are Mountain West schools). The deal looks to be a smart one for both sides. Time Warner Cable needs live sports content for its channels, which are launching with rights to the NBA Lakers and MLS Galaxy. This is a relatively easy way for CBS Sports Network to continue to drive its distribution. The network has room to grow: It’s in 47 million homes now.

NBC and Charter averted an Olympic-size crisis recently, sources say, when the two sides reached an extension on their carriage deal. That means that Charter’s 4.3 million subscribers will be able to watch all of NBC’s channels, including NBC Sports Network, through the Olympics without interruption. Don’t expect a formal announcement on this deal. It was an extension; not a new deal. And much to my chagrin, both sides stayed quiet and kept their negotiations out of the press. (My sources aren’t even sure of the deal terms yet, just that a deal was completed.)
But this is a story I write every four years: A cable or satellite operator faces the prospect of having NBC’s channels go dark during the Olympics because of a carriage dispute. Four years ago, it was Time Warner Cable that worked out a last-minute carriage deal just before the Beijing Games. This year, it’s Charter. In 2016, it will be someone else.

Speaking of the Olympics, this will be the first year that all of the Comcast-owned networks will be part of NBC family during the Games. We know what that means for NBC Sports Network, which will become a de facto Olympics channel. But Comcast’s RSNs also are catching Olympic fever. Its Comcast SportsNets started running Olympic promos in June and Olympic athlete promos in July. During the Olympics, three faces from the RSNs (Philadelphia’s Marshall Harris, New England’s Carolyn Manno and Bay Area’s Jim Kozimor) will be in London to cover the Games. So, too, will Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman, who will be an MSNBC host.

The “NFL AM” crew gets to work today, but don’t expect four hours of debate.
Photo by: JOHNNY VY / NFL
Jon Litner, NBC Sports Group president, said that this kind of “flood-the-zone” coverage is what viewers should expect when NBC holds the rights to a big event, like the Stanley Cup playoffs or U.S. Open golf tournament. “When there’s a big event where we can really line up all these resources on the content side, those are events that we can make even bigger and really serve our viewers across all these platforms,” he said.

While in London, I’m going to miss today’s debut of NFL Network’s live four-hour morning news show, “NFL AM.” The executive overseeing the show, NFL Network’s senior vice president of programming and production, Mark Quenzel, was at ESPN when the morning “SportsCenter” went live. Surprisingly, in the months after ESPN made the switch, the show’s ratings were not any bigger than the looped “SportsCenter” reruns that the network had been running.
“When we were deciding whether to do this show, I told [NFL Network President and CEO] Steve Bornstein that if he was looking for a ratings increase in the first six to 12 months, we shouldn’t do it,” Quenzel said. “Obviously, ratings are important. We need to let fans find us.” The show plans to cover fantasy heavily, and its hosts will debate a lot of topics, but Quenzel bristled when it was suggested that “NFL AM” would follow ESPN’s “First Take” format. “It is very, very difficult to try and do debate all the time and have it be true and legitimate,” he said. “If there’s something to debate, we’ll debate it.”

With that, it’s all-Olympics, all-the-time for me over the next week.

Cheers, mate.

John Ourand can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.