Five Things That Will Happen and Six Things We Predict Will Happen as a Result of the Comcast-NBC Merger

As you all know, the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve the merger between Comcast and NBC yesterday. What does that mean for hockey, and sports media in general? Well, there are some things that we know for almost certain, but much is left up in the air. So, I’ll give you the concrete information of what we can expect, and then guess a couple of other things. First, what’s basically set in stone:

1. NBC Sports Executive Producer Dick Ebersol will assume control of both VERSUS and all Comcast Sportsnet affiliates, as well as the Golf Channel. Ebersol, according to many reports, has long wanted his own sports network to tinker with, and will finally get his chance, rebranding VERSUS (more in a bit) and Comcast Sportsnet in his image of what a 24-hour sports network should be. Now, VERSUS has already begun taking steps at forming an identity in the past year alone. Note the 24/7 bottom line has made VERSUS look more up to snuff almost instantly. A hockey studio show was a long ago must. Also, one has to wonder if VERSUS and The Golf Channel might begin to share (again, more shortly) as NBC and TGC own much of the PGA season already.

2. VERSUS will get a name change and a makeover to fit the NBC Sports brand. Kind of curious to see what they come up with. NBC Sportsnet sounds a little messy but works off the Rogers Sportsnet template. NBCS? SNBC? Who knows for now. Also, likely say goodbye to VERSUS’ graphics package when all that goes down, as their production will look more like an NBC production.

3. VERSUS and NBC will begin sharing some events, and VERSUS will likely provide supplemental coverage for NBC events . Once again, this will likely mean some form of golf programming migrating to VERSUS, while it affects very little on the hockey side, as VERSUS has the same lead hockey announcers as NBC (plus McGuire) and other than McGuire, all of NBC’s hockey talent appears on VERSUS. What it may end up meaning is that VERSUS/NBC will work to beef up each other’s college football content. Will NBC end up getting a piece of the Mountain West? Will VERSUS score itself a Notre Dame telecast or two? How will the next NFL negotiations involve an NBC/VERSUS partnership? Many questions will need answering.

4. NBC/VERSUS will become an equal partnership, akin to ESPN/ABC. That all but certainly means …

5. NBC and VERSUS will likely make a joint bid for the new NHL TV rights. ESPN can offer so many different platforms for hockey, that VERSUS and NBC would almost certainly partner together to offer just as much for the NHL.

5 Predictions

1. VERSUS and NBC will attempt to outbid ESPN, TBS and FOX in the next baseball contracts. While NBC would likely want a piece of everything the next time it is available, baseball makes the most sense for VERSUS as it has the gaping hole in it’s schedule during the summertime. NBC hasn’t had baseball on it’s schedule since 2000, and would have to move around football for some World Series games (or vice versa) but it would be most important to have a second major league in VERSUS’ stable.

2. With VERSUS’ talent available already, NBC will return to regionalizing hockey in the new deal. I’m not convinced we won’t be seeing this sooner rather than later. Hockey Day in America is asking NBC to regionalize for the first time in three years, will it be VERSUS talent that gets drawn upon for that weekend? Anyway, I think this makes more sense than the Game of the Week format, to be honest. While, yes, NBC is garnering the same ratings for one game that they did for free, to truly grow the game and become a national sport, they have to get more of the southern and western teams involved, and regionalizing is the way to do that.

3. NBC will bid on a NFC or AFC conference package, and use VERSUS to bid for Sunday Night Football. This would be a true test of Comcast’s deep pockets, and give one corporation control of almost 50% of the NFL’s games. While I doubt the NFL would take both it’s primetime showcases to cable (admittedly, this becomes less likely now that ESPN secured MNF) it would work a lot better for NBC in general. Instead of having to come up with a completely new primetime schedule after football leaves in January, they would have new programming airing on Sundays in primetime, with powerful football as a lead-in. It’s something FOX and CBS have used to great success with The Simpsons, Family Guy and Amazing Race in past years. Then, VERSUS gets it’s big football showcase every week. Also, it doesn’t interrupt NBC’s World Series coverage if they were to bid on that.

Here’s why it might work. There have been rumors that ESPN may take a Wild Card round game in the new Monday Night Football deal, therefore leaving NBC with (potentially) only 1 Wild Card game leftover in the Sunday Night package. Why not make Wild Card Saturday an all cable affair, since ESPN at worst has proven itself capable of drawing incredible audiences for big name events, and give one to VERSUS and one to ESPN? Risky, but the NFL can do anything, anywhere that it wants.

4. VERSUS/NBC will either enter a joint partnership to create a conference TV network, or try to bid on the next BCS rights.

5. VERSUS/NBC will attempt to use the NHL to add a little prestige to one of it’s other cable networks, possibly Universal Sports, with a “Game of the Week” package, that’d be blacked out in home markets until Universal Sports reaches certain subscriber levels.

6. Comcast-NBC will take control of the NHL Network.

How do you think the Comcast-NBC merger will affect the NHL on TV? Leave some of your predictions in the comments thread. Regardless of what happens, we’re entering a bit of uncharted territory in the months ahead.

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About stevelepore
Steve Lepore is the Managing Editor of Puck the Media. His work has been featured in The Hockey News. Feel free to contact him at stevemlepore@gmail.com

4 Responses to Five Things That Will Happen and Six Things We Predict Will Happen as a Result of the Comcast-NBC Merger

  1. Caps Nut says:

    Call me crazy but I think if NBCU/Comcast gets the NBA back, that’s bad news for the NHL. MLB on NBCU/Comcast wouldn’t hurt the NHL as much but with MLB sending the ALCS and the entire Divisional Round to TBS, I have to wonder how much profit there is in MLB right now.

    And I can’t see NBCU/Comcast taking over the NHL Network. As I understand it, the NHL Network is heavily supported by TSN. Maybe NBCU/Comcast help further the distribution of NHL Network in the States but I can’t see NBCU/Comcast taking over the entire operation including the Canadian portion. Losing TSN would kill the NHL Network.

  2. E says:

    This is great news for the NHL.
    The worst thing that could happen to the NHL is if they decide to go back to ESPN. No matter what ESPN says, hockey will remain at the bottom of the list of all the sports it covers.
    NHL on Versus would be terrific.
    Here’s what I would like to see happen in terms of Television coverage…
    -Versus should continue there Monday and Tuesday night games with Monday having 1 national game and Tuesday would be a doubleheader every week.
    -NBC should begin their coverage a week before Christmas on a Saturday afternoon. There is no College Football games and the NFL only has Saturday night games. This will give the network a chance to promote the outdoor game on New Years Day.
    Next game would be on New Years Day. As previously mentioned, there should be a regular afternoon game at 1pm and the outdoor game in prime time at 8pm (eastern times).
    After New Years, NBC should be televising every Sunday beginning with the last week of January (the off week before the Super Bowl and run every week through the Playoffs.
    Most starting times should be at 3pm eastern. (12:30et is too early).
    NBC should also continue to have games on Saturday and Sunday during the weekend. Also, it would be a great idea to try some regional playoff games on a Saturday night in the first round.

    I think NBC/Versus has a great opportunity to grow the sport.

  3. Kevin S says:

    I think you are on the right track. Here is what I think would improve your ideas:

    1.) NBC should show more playoff games

    2.) More Versus promotion and NHL on NBC promotion

    3.) 30 minute pre-game show on NBC

    4.) Regionalize NHL games (2-4 on any given Sunday)

    5.) Less Pittsburgh, Washington, Chicago, & Detroit and More Jersey, Tampa, Atlanta, Phoenix, LA, Dallas & Nashville. I am sick of seeing just a few teams on NBC

    6.) More internet promotion, print promotion, and TV promotion

    As a final thought: If we were to see a non-NBC team final (i.e. Nashville vs. Tampa Bay or Phoenix vs. Atlanta) then we would have a gauge of how many non-NHL fans watch the NHL.

  4. DyHrdMET says:

    I think for the NHL, this is all good. NBC/Versus could snuff out ESPN, and if they have control of the NHL Network in the US, we might actually get to see every playoff game. The Sunday game of the week start time needs to be moved to late afternoon for the west coast (like 5pm ET start), and if NBC pawns off the Golf to the Golf channel, maybe that can happen. I like the idea of NBC/Versus going for the next MLB package (I’d like to see Doc Emrick calling baseball). But even without this merger, there has been some synergy between NBC and Versus, simply because they were smart enough to hire the same principle talent and they’re the league’s US-based network and cable TV partners, and don’t forget that Kentucky Derby OT day a few years ago. But if the Versus studio talent, now that their show has been built up, can get some play on NBC, it would make those broadcasts sound better (and maybe get rid of Pierre McGuire).

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