NBCUniversal Stresses Live Olympics Coverage

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NBCUniversal executives stressed live coverage and a multiplatform, cross-channel approach for its $4.38 billion four-game Olympic package through the 2020 Games.

“This deal encompasses every platform known today or to become known between now and the time that this deal comes up,” Mark Lazarus, president, NBC Sports Group, told reporters during a conference call from Lausanne, Switzerland on Tuesday. “It is for television, it is for tablet. It is for mobile. It is for broadband. It is for every now known or to be known or still to be conceived set of rights. It’s all encompassing.”

Lazarus vowed that every event during the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – with similar time zones as the United States – will be live either on broadcast, cable or broadband.

“We will make every event available on one platform or another live,” said Lazarus.

The schedule for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia – which is several time zones away – will be more challenging.

Executives did not offer a breakdown of which events will go to which networks in the combined companies’ lineup. But Comcast’s sports channel Versus, which is due to be renamed and rebranded in the coming weeks, is expected to play a major role in Olympic coverage. And Lazarus, a Burke appointee who succeeded longtime NBC Sports and Olympic chief Dick Ebersol, stressed the importance of going live.

It is a stark departure from Ebersol’s cautious non-cannibalization approach to the Games, which drew increasing criticism from hardcore sports fans and also caused some friction between Ebersol and Burke, according to sources.

Marquee events will continue to be available during broadcast primetime, though Lazarus did not provide specifics.

“We think that with today’s technological advances and the ability for live streaming and broadband, the experience is good for the super sports fan but doesn’t necessarily change our strategy for how we’ll [approach] primetime and build for that shared audience and shared experience.”

The cross-platform approach combined with the length of the deal, said executives will allow the company to amortize the cost. And the “path to profitability” approach is something Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian Roberts and NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke have stressed since Comcast’s merger with NBCUni.

“Ultimately we build our company by making sound decisions,” said Roberts. “You try to be disciplined. You try to factor those human emotions out at the end of the day and do what is right for your shareholders. But on a personal basis, I’m so thrilled. And I’m very proud to have been part of the presentation. We poured our heart and soul into it.”

Fox reportedly bid $1.5 billion on a two-game package. That was slightly higher than ESPN, which is said to have offered $1.4 billion for the 2014 and 2016 Games, while News Corp.-owned Fox came with $3.5 billion for the four-game package. That was almost $1 billion less than the winning NBC Universal bid.

 Roberts stressed that the length of the package will amortize the company’s investment.

“On a human basis, I absolutely wanted to win for the team,” said Roberts. “And I’m very delighted that we [did]. But I’ve said all along that we were going to take a disciplined approach where we needed to have a path to profitability. We were unanimous amongst all of us that that was the responsible approach. Having [the Games] longer term, we were able to come out and achieve that goal.”
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