U.S. Figure Skating Moving OTT Offerings To NBC Sports Gold
U.S. Figure Skating will end its proprietary OTT streaming site IceNetwork.com and license its content and subscriber list to NBC Sports, which will create a skating service within its NBC Sports Gold streaming product. The “Figure Skating Pass” on NBC Sports Gold will cover everything IceNetwork.com did, including live coverage of the U.S. Championships and Int'l Skating Union events, along with various lower tier skating competitions and on-demand content. USFS’ in-house streaming service, launched in '07, is marginally profitable, USFS CMO Ramsey Baker said, but the nonprofit NGB lacked the resources to further develop its capabilities on mobile devices or to properly promote it. Ice Network LLC continues to exist as a wholly owned subsidiary, but IceNetwork.com as a consumer-facing brand will close. “There’s a large segment of figure skating fans who aren’t even aware there’s a streaming service, or if they were aware, they didn’t participate because it was only available on desktop,” Baker said. "Now we’re going to remove that barrier.” The digital transition was included in a broader media rights deal recently signed by USFS and NBC that will extend their relationship through '28. USFS under the deal will control all of the linear commercial inventory for the broadcasts for the first time, up from half under the old arrangement. NBC will recoup that value on the digital side, where they believe they can grow subscriptions substantially over the current IceNetwork.com numbers. NBC execs believe they can capture growth by making the streaming coverage available on the full range of mobile devices and connected TVs, and by promoting it frequently during its linear TV coverage of the sport.
HOPES TO EXPAND AUDIENCE: NBC Sports VP/Direct-to-Consumer Services Portia Archer said she is “very bullish” on subscriber growth in figure skating, long one of the most reliable Olympic sport draws in linear television. “We fully expect to be able to expand the audience that figure skating content is available to, which should translate into an increase in subscribers,” Archer said. USFS does not officially disclose subscriber counts, but each subscription costs roughly $50 today and the organization books annual subscription revenue in the high six figures, working out to nearly 20,000 subscribers. Current subscribers will be offered an incentive to stick with the product through the change, Baker said. Exact pricing for the NBC product has not been determined. Figure skating is the fourth Olympic sport for which NBC Sports has created a dedicated subscription product on its direct-to-consumer platform, following track and field, cycling and rugby. Contained in the USFS deal are the rights to certain speed skating events, which will be used to develop a “Speed Skating Pass." BAM Tech provided the backend support to IceNetwork.com. NBC uses its owned Playmaker platform.