NBC Sports Network

January 2, 2012 by staff 

NBC Sports NetworkNBC Sports Network, It’s showtime for the new head of NBC Sports, Mark Lazarus, and programming executive Jon Miller on the 15th floor in Rockefeller Center.

After Monday’s televised Winter Classic – the Rangers-vs.-Flyers NHL game at Citizens Bank Park – the also-ran Versus 24-hour sports channel that never lived up to its ratings expectations under Comcast Corp.’s ownership will be rebooted as the around-the-clock cable outlet NBC Sports Network.

A national sports channel was one of the economic justifications for the $30 billion marriage of Comcast and NBC Universal Inc. in 2010, which combined the cable distribution power of Comcast, whose cable lines pass about 50 million homes, with the artistry and sports legacy of NBC-TV.

But the rebranded channel also is being launched at an inauspicious time. Legendary NBC sports head Dick Ebersol resigned in a contract tiff in 2010, the cable channel lacks the slam-dunk rights around which to build a sensational brand, and pay-TV operators are publicly bashing the inflationary cost of sports channels.

Rebranding Versus to NBC Sports Network won’t immediately affect cable- or satellite-TV bills. But industry experts say a new upgraded sports channel will likely reinforce the higher prices for sports TV rights that are then passed along to consumers.

“What was a minor problem is turning into an astronomical problem,” Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt told the Wall Street Journal in December, referring to the cost of sports programming generally. “The ultimate solution is to get that programming on some sort of smaller packaging scheme,” which could mean having those who want to watch sports pay for them.

Earlier in the month, Liberty Media Corp. CEO Gregory B. Maffei described the rising cost of ESPN as a “tax on every American household,” though he said regional sports networks also were to blame.

Despite the outside noise, Lazarus and his NBC team have been putting into place a long-term strategy for the NBC Sports Network. There are plans for a new headquarters, with studios, at a former manufacturing plant in Stamford, Conn.

Programming this first year will lean heavily on the Olympics, 38 regular-season Major League Soccer games, 13 IndyCar Series races, 14 hours a day of Tour de France coverage for most of July, 90 regular-season NHL games along with 50 NHL playoff games, 20 hours of horse-racing coverage around the Triple Crown, and 40 college football, basketball, and hockey games.

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