USOC Still Committed To Launch Network
By Carolyn Braff
The timing of the NBC-WCSN partnership poses a different challenge to the United States Olympic Committee. The USOC also has plans to launch a television network, on a to-be-announced timetable, but with NBC off the market as a distribution partner, the USOC may be running low on options. The USOC, however, remains steadfast in its launch plans.
“We are moving full steam ahead with planning for our own television network,” says Darryl Seibel, spokesperson for the USOC. “WCSN’s partnership with NBC Universal underscores what our research has shown, that there is a growing appetite and demand to experience Olympic sport in a period that extends beyond the six months immediately prior to and during the Games. We see it as a positive.”
“It’s difficult to maximize network distribution on your own, particularly if the events you have don’t give you the leverage to drive a channel,” says Lee Berke, president and CEO of LHB Sports, Entertainment & Media and a sports television network consultant.
Berke says the question is what can they create based on USOC-leveraged events that makes the most sense? “Are they going to take the risk of taking their most popular events, like track and field championships or figure skating, off of broadcast and put that on their own channel?,” he says. “Those are substantial, money-making events. You’re building for the long term, but there’s a short term loss if you make those shifts. But it is something that could be easily rectified if and when they come up with a distribution programming partner that gives them additional clout.”
Seibel notes that in addition to providing exposure for Olympic athletes, as the Universal Sports network will do, the USOC’s goal extends beyond that, to increasing participation.
“When we look at objectives for our website and ultimately the television network, it’s not just increasing interest and exposure, it’s also participation in the Olympic movement,” Seibel says. “Increasing participation in Olympic sports is a priority for us.”
Taking The Rings Across Platforms
By going multi-platform, both the USOC and NBC have recognized that the future of Olympic broadcasting requires a commitment to new media. In partnering with WCSN, which had focused on multi-platform offerings from its inception, NBC found an easy way to extend its new media reach.
“There’s another round of bidding coming up for the Olympics and the IOC is looking for more comprehensive year-round programming, not only on broadcast, but also on cable and new media,” Berke explains. “As part of an overall bid, it’s another arrow in NBC’s quiver to say that we will be able to offer not only our broadcast and cable platforms, but we also have a specific network devoted to Olympic sports that runs over a variety of platforms.”
In addition to offering content via television, mobile and broadband, WCSN recently partnered with Sirius satellite radio to provide audio content, and visitors to the new Universal Sports.com, set to launch in July, will be able to use radar to track the flight of a javelin or discus, among other offerings.
“We can give the consumer a richer interactive experience online than we can on TV,” Ruibal says. “It also allows the consumer on a VOD basis to interact with that content when they’re ready to see it. We use the web site to better enhance the viewing opportunities and provide better exposure for these sports.”
On to Beijing
With the opening ceremonies in Beijing just over a month away, expect to see NBC break out the heavy marketing for Universal Sports, pushing viewers to stay connected with the Olympic sports and athletes after the medals have been awarded in China.
“It’s always been in our interest to find a way to connect with our Olympic audience outside of the games,” explains Perkins Miller, senior vice president of digital media for NBC Universal Sports & Olympics. “WCSN had done a great job of acquiring rights and has some great leadership in this business so it made a lot of sense to partner with them.”
How NBC chooses to utilize those rights going forward has yet to be determined, but the mystery will be solved as the network evolves.
“It’s a strategically sound move, a move that gives them enhanced flexibility,” Berke concludes. “It really will be in intriguing to see how they utilize this network in the years to come.”