Charting NBC Sports’ next moves: Pete Bevacqua on the NFL, Peacock, Olympics and more
NBC Sports Group President Pete Bevacqua hit on several important topics when I interviewed him on stage last week at the Endeavor Streaming Sports Media & Technology conference in Los Angeles. Here are four positions I took away from his talk.
It’s all about NFL rights.
The NFL’s media negotiations still are two or three years away, but the shadow of those upcoming deals is already affecting current rights fee negotiations. TV networks already know that they will have to pay a huge increase for the NFL and are budgeting accordingly.
“We are absolutely working backwards from an NFL deal,” Bevacqua said. “It influences every decision we make along the way. It has to.”
Bevacqua spoke of the need to stay disciplined when it comes to media rights, which means not bidding on every deal that comes up.
“We can’t have a machine gun approach,” he said. “We can’t go out there hog wild for everything that comes across our desk. We have to show restraint. We have to show discipline. And we have to, as a company, be able to look back at this plan we put together. … I know in my mind what we feel we need to bid on, what we would like to bid on and what we probably won’t bid on. That can always change, but we do have a plan in place.”
NBC seems poised to keep both NBC Sports Gold and Peacock.
NBCUniversal has prioritized Peacock, the streaming service that it plans to launch in the spring. Peacock will have a lot of sports content, which isn’t surprising given that longtime NBC Sports executive Rick Cordella moved over to Peacock as executive vice president and chief revenue officer. “There’s sports in his bones,” Bevacqua said.
Bevacqua said the fact that Peacock will have sports does not spell doom for NBC Sports Gold, the sports division’s current over-the-top service.
“It’s going to be a one-two punch,” he said. “It’s what sports will be embedded in Peacock and then what sports are we going to continue to really dive deep with our NBC Sports Gold platform, which … allows people who really want to specialize in a sport and have all access into that sport to go as deep as they want to go.”
Bevacqua said a streaming strategy presents a key to the future and referenced the fact that streaming audiences skew younger. Still, he said linear television will remain the dominant platform for a long time.
“Everybody’s writing its epitaph, but look at ‘Sunday Night Football,’ the most popular program on prime time eight years in a row — and it looks like we’re well on our way to being the ninth,” he said. “You need to be able to provide for both.”
It’s full speed ahead for the Olympics.
I was surprised to see that longtime executive Jim Bell, who oversaw NBC’s Olympic production, left the network just eight months before the Tokyo Games. Bevacqua said a replacement would be announced in the next week or two.
“Jim’s a great person and did unbelievable amounts of work as a producer and brought great energy to it, but we’re going to be totally prepared,” Bevacqua said.
Bevacqua referenced the number of top executives still at NBC who have decades’ worth of experience working on the Olympics.
“We have people like Gary Zenkel and Joe Gesue and Becky Chatman and Peter Diamond and Mark Levy — I could sit here and name 50 names, who literally grew up with the Olympics,” Bevacqua said. “We are putting the finishing touches on a plan. You’ll see an announcement in the next few weeks.”
Bevacqua said ad sales already are off to a strong start, saying that they are pacing better than Rio. And its schedule, coming in between the Democratic and Republican national conventions, should help ratings. “We see it as an unbelievably favorable positioning,” he said.
NBC did not bid on the Champions League.
I had heard that NBC and its Spanish-language Telemundo were planning to team up to bid on the UEFA Champions League package that CBS won. But when I asked Bevacqua about the bid, he said he never formally submitted one.
“We looked at it but ultimately [didn’t] based on what we thought it may go for, which has been now proven to be correct,” he said. “We talked to our friends at Telemundo … and just decided that if we’re not going to put our best foot forward, we should just take a pass.”