Lazarus: NBC Committed to TV Everywhere, Looking Forward to EPL in 2014

Mark Lazarus, chairman of the NBC Sports Group, reiterated the importance of the TV Everywhere philosophy of delivering sports content to authenticated sports fans during a keynote session at the B&C Sports Business & Technology Summit, held today in New York City.

Mark Lazarus, chairman, NBC Sports Group

Mark Lazarus, chairman, NBC Sports Group

“People are learning how to authenticate, and, each week, we are making progress,” he said of the challenge in getting cable and satellite subscribers to confirm that they are subscribers before they can access streaming simulcasts of live broadcast and cable networks. “But the TV Everywhere aspect is an important part of protecting the pay-TV ecosystem. And we know our parent company [Comcast] and all distributors and programmers are moving towards a way to protect the value of that ecosystem so we can pay rights and deliver high-quality content to consumers.”

More important than giving viewers what they want — and they definitely do want to be able to watch their favorite sports without having to be tied to a TV set — is that TV ratings, ultimately, benefit.

“As long as the content is protected and viewers are authenticated, the TV ratings numbers are bigger,” he said. “During the Olympics, we streamed every event live, and the TV ratings were phenomenal, even when the events were streamed seven or eight hours in advance of the primetime NBC broadcast. And it also got people excited about the tailored storytelling and packaging in primetime.”

The NBC Sports Group has not reached TV Everywhere deals with all cable and satellite distributors, but Lazarus expects deals with AT&T, Cox, Charter, and DIRECTV to be completed shortly.

“We are also hopeful to make a deal with Time Warner Cable,” he said. “We think that, over time, [TV Everywhere] will be the norm and part of normal [carriage] negotiations.”

As those TV Everywhere efforts grow, the new NBC Sports Group Digital Center, located in Stamford, CT, will play a big part in the effort. The new facility, which officially opened this week, is home to 500 staffers and, on any given day, up to 700 NBC Sports Group content creators and executives.

“We’re very proud of it,” Lazarus said. “It’s a great open environment that has great studios and facilities, and we hope to make it a place that people are going to be happy to come to work at every day.”

He said that NBC Sports will always have a presence at 30 Rock but no staffers will physically have an office there. And the Sunday Night Football pregame show will broadcast from 30 Rockefeller Center (with camera signals sent via fiber to a control room in Stamford) before, eventually, migrating to Stamford as well.

Top of mind this week at NBC Sports Group are the Stanley Cup Finals between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks. Monday night’s game delivered more than 4 million viewers on the NBC Sports Network, the biggest audience outside of the USA women’s soccer team gold-medal victory at the Olympics. Any lingering viewer frustration with the NHL due to the lockout in late 2012 appears to have faded.

“We got off to a sluggish start, as the season was supposed to start in October, but we came roaring back with things like Rivalry Night every Wednesday, which is a new destination for hockey fans that drove the Wednesday ratings up 50%,” said Lazarus. “So we feel very good about how the season unfolded … and one thing we know is that the fourth-quarter ratings later this year will be up.”

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are likely to affect next year’s NHL playoffs. Lazarus expects NHL players to be playing in the Olympic Games, and the NBC Olympics production team is moving ahead under the assumption that the logistics and other issues of having NHL players there will be ironed out.

Olympic hockey coverage will be part of a broadcast effort next February that will see more than 500 hours of Olympic content broadcast on linear TV, including 200 hours on NBC Sports Network.

“And everything will be streamed live,” he added. “Viewers will have more access to it and consume it on more and more devices, which leads to them consuming more television, and that is important.”

2014 will be about more than just the Olympics and other signature events, such as the NHL playoffs and the U.S. Open golf championship. It will also be the first year in which NBC broadcasts 380 English Premier League matches.

“We believe it was a good bet, as it is a top league,” Lazarus said. “We also believed that it is a good value for the amount of content we get. Broadcasting all 380 games is something that has not been done before, so we need to make sure consumers and distributors understand it.”

Viewers can expect 200 games to be available live on a linear-TV network and the final day of the season to feature 10 live matches broadcast simultaneously on 10 networks.

As for the additional 180 games, every Saturday, NBC Sports will make four simultaneous games available to distribution partners during the 10 a.m.-noon ET window. The hope is that they will broadcast all four matches by making use of pay-per-view and sports VOD services available during the morning hours.

“The bandwidth does exist,” he said. “It’s up to the distributors to provide the games.”

All 380 games will also be available via live streaming to authenticated viewers.