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Volume 23 No. 24
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NBC Sports enters video streaming business with Playmaker

Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.

Disney is kicking the tires on taking an equity stake in MLB Advanced Media. Turner Broadcasting paid close to $200 million for a majority stake in streaming company iStreamPlanet.

Now, NBC Sports Group is moving further into the video streaming business, setting up a division called Playmaker Media to convince leagues and teams to use NBC to stream their events. NBC formally plans to announce the new venture this week.

“There’s a real business here, but it’s also strategic for us,” said Rick Cordella, NBC Sports senior vice president and general manager of digital media. “We want to keep our partners closer to us and work with them not only from a rights fee perspective but from a digital point of view, too.”

For media companies like ESPN, NBC and Turner, these moves to set up their own streaming companies are signs of how TV networks plan to approach the next round of sports rights negotiations, many of which will occur early next decade. The idea is that these networks would use their streaming services as an added deal point to convince sports leagues and conferences to cut deals with them.

“Five or 10 years ago, there wasn’t a big demand for this kind of service,” Cordella said. “I know [MLBAM] had been there. But it seems like today, everyone’s putting more content online. Everyone’s announcing an OTT initiative. We can be a partner in that.”

Stand-alone streaming tech units also have proved to be good business. MLBAM’s tech unit brought in $100 million in revenue last year, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. TV network executives want to get into that business.

NBC executives expect Playmaker’s initial clients to be properties with whom NBC already has deals. Playmaker has signed the International Olympic Committee as its first outside client to provide live streaming for its Olympic Channel, which is launching later this year. NBC will court other rights holders from leagues it does not have deals with, as well as some international clients that share similar rights in different markets, like the Olympics or English Premier League.

“Look at who we are partnered with today — that would be a likelihood of who we would have a relationship with,” Cordella said. “Internationally, look at who has [similar] rights with us: EPL, Olympic rights. We think we can step in there internationally and help them very quickly.”

Two leagues that have signed rights deals with NBC — the NHL and PGA Tour — have streaming deals in place with MLBAM. Last year, the NHL secured up to a 10 percent stake in MLBAM’s BAM Tech.

NBC has used its own live streaming service for much of the past decade, streaming Olympic events starting in 2006 and NFL games starting in 2008. It will stream 10,000 events this year for NBC, NBCSN, Golf Channel, Telemundo, NBCUniverso and the regional sports networks.

It is not planning to hire new staff for the venture, using the same Stamford, Conn.-based employees who already have been working on NBC Sports’ streaming for the past decade.

NBC News will use Playmaker to live-stream its coverage of the 2016 presidential election.

At launch, Playmaker will partner with tech companies to power the service, including Adobe, Akamai, Microsoft, iStream-Planet and Comcast Wholesale.