Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports, said the network faces changing sports consumer habits that have affected ratings, but it’s making a full court press with its upcoming Super Bowl and Olympics coverage. He also said ATSC 3.0 presents an opportunity for its stations if it can find “the right balance.” (Photo: Wendy Moger-Bross)
Lazarus: Sports Challenged, But Resilient
NEW YORK — NBC will air both the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics in 2018, but even such major events present their audience challenges.
“We’re training people to follow sports, not to watch sports,” said Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports at TVNewsCheck‘s TV2020 at the NAB New York Show today, speaking to changing audience habits that have eroded audience.
Lazarus says a rapid decline of adults 18-34 ratings, the continued proliferation of sports content across the internet and the divisive recent protests within the NFL have presented mounting challenges.
But the network remains highly bullish on its live sports offerings, and Lazarus echoed analyst Michael Nathanson’s earlier endorsement of sports’ resiliency.
To that end, Lazarus told TVNewsCheck Editor Harry Jessell that ad sales for next year’s Super Bowl are ahead of schedule, acknowledging that the Olympics sales were coming along more slowly “but starting to pick up steam.”
Lazarus says NBC plans to make the most of its 6,000 hours of Olympics coverage with every event available through broadcast, cable or digital streaming, and it will sell to advertisers across all of those platforms. NBC plans to help its affiliates with their own marketing and sales efforts by providing them with the video assets it’s currently gathering on their local athletes.
For the first time, Olympic coverage will also go live across the entire country in primetime.
On the football front, Lazarus says the ratings decline trend isn’t necessarily a steady one and “is going to go game to game, season to season,” not that that’s likely to result in a better deal when it renegotiates rights with the NFL.
Talks over Thursday Night Football are slated to begin within the next 90 days, he said. NBC currently tri-casts the game with Amazon and the NFL Network, and Lazarus feels the network is going in with an edge.
“If you talk to NFL owners, they think a big part of their dominance in the American sports landscape is because they have been loyal to broadcast television,” he said. “There’s an advantage to incumbency when the decline in cable subscribers has caused the distribution to widen.”
Lazarus was tentative about the potential role of 4K sports broadcasts, noting that NBC has done some experimenting with it but has cause to be wary. Partly behind his reticence is Japan skipping right from 4K to 8K, for one thing. For another, he said that NBC was quick to embrace HD but took more of a wait-and-see approach to 3D.
“I’m glad we did,” he said.
The NFL hasn’t yet put the 4K issue on the negotiating table, he added, though NBC is investigating 4K prospects for the Super Bowl.
On the ATSC 3.0 front, Lazarus said NBC may take a shot at implementation.
“We do believe that it should be a voluntary standard,” he said. “But our station group believes there is opportunity and will look for the right balance between where we sit today and 3.0.”
There may also be opportunities on the M&A front. While Lazarus said “we’re not actively seeking acquisition,” he acknowledged that if the right fit emerged for potential NBC-Telemundo duopolies in a bigger market, “those would be of interest.”
Lazarus said he isn’t worried about the consolidations sweeping over the industry and how they might affect NBC’s relationship with its own affiliates. “We provide them great value and they provide us great value,” he said.
Read all of TVNewsCheck’s TV2020 coverage here.