Mark Lazarus talks Peacock’s potential for sports


Tonight in Unpacks: Few people in the industry are in a better position to assess the overall sports media landscape than NBCUniversal’s Mark Lazarus, who spoke candidly about the future of streaming, the 2024 Paris Games and more on the final day of SBJ Media Innovators.



Other headlines: 

  • Peacock primed for ‘nice boost’ in subscribers
  • ‘Broadcast is the currency’ for networks in the days of digital
  • Meta’s Rob Shaw sees opportunity in VR sports co-watching experiences
  • Merritt Paulson to sell Thorns, keep Timbers in wake of Yates Report
  • Big Ten rolls into title game with 15 conference sponsors
  • Marchand & Ourand bonus podcast: Sports media & mojitos
  • 49ers’ Fortnite map reflects team’s legacy

In today’s Morning Buzzcast, SBJ’s David Albright covers the Rose Bowl falling in line with CFP expansion, Fox’s World Cup ratings up and Call of Duty’s new season set to begin without a streaming partner.

NBCUniversal Television & Streaming Chair Mark Lazarus said to expect a “really nice boost” in Peacock‘s paid subscribers in the next earnings report (Q4 call scheduled for Jan. 26), after Comcast‘s Q3 report saw the total grow to 15 million, notes SBJ’s Preston Bounds.

Speaking at SBJ’s Media Innovators event today in N.Y., Lazarus indicated the importance of that continued growth, as an “evolving” media landscape will see cable distribution “get smaller and smaller.” Lazarus said broadcast “will continue to be important and valuable to leagues,” while streaming “will grow in importance over time and will start to … squeeze the cable out.”

Lazarus: “Shrinking and distributions means shrinking in ability to generate revenue, which means an inability to pay rights fees in a competitive landscape. So where does (making up that gap) come from? We’re doing it with broadcast and streaming. And if you look at our Big Ten deal, that’s exactly how that’s constructed.”

Expanding on the 15 million paid subscriber numbers, Lazarus added, “And then a bunch of free subs. So 30 million there. So starting to get to scale, we’re transitioning it to be more paid rather than free.” He added Peacock‘s sports coverage, including the NFL and Notre Dame simulcasts and Premier League matches, is “driving huge audiences competitive with cable numbers.”

Quick Hits:

  • On the 2024 Paris Games: “We believe there will be fans in every seat. We think there will be an unbelievable Opening Ceremony utilizing the backdrop of the city. … Paris will be an extraordinary celebration of the world back to what the Olympics should be.” 
  • On whether USA Network will continue to feature live sports: “We have a big set of rights there between NASCAR, EPL, I’ll talk about WWE. … So yes, absolutely. And then streaming, which we will need to drive value.”
  • On changes to NASCAR as they head into the next round of rights talks: “What they’ve done with the cars has brought parity and made it really about racing and the drivers. And I think that’s been fun. And there’s a whole new young crop of drivers coming along that have proven to both be popular but also be expressive and show personality.”
  • On Apple being the perceived “front runner” to land NFL Sunday Ticket: “What are the tech companies going to do in the sports world? … And can they create a differentiated product?”

Check out more from Lazarus on the RSN business, plus his thoughts on LIV Golf as NBCU continues its relationship with the PGA Tour.

NBCU’s Mark Lazarus (r) spoke candidly with SBJ’s Abe Madkour on a slew of media hot topics

Over-the-top streaming services like ESPN+ and Prime Video have been a godsend for people wanting to cut the cord on pricey cable packages. But it’s been a bit rockier for some sports fans, who still depend on linear TV and RSNs to watch their teams.

At SBJ’s Media Innovators conference, a panel analyzed the importance of balancing linear and OTT — and while sports can be a big driver for subscribers, it takes more than live events to secure steady revenues streams and solid strategies.

“At Peacock, sports is essential to our strategy. We were very lucky to move the NBC Sports Gold properties over on day one,” NBC Sports and Peacock Sports President Rick Cordella said. “The difference with sports is exclusive, right? If you have a Manchester United game on Peacock on Sunday morning, people who like Premier League, people who are the fans of those players and teams, are gonna show up. I think when you have an entertainment show, it’s a lottery ticket.”

Marquee events, like the Super Bowl and the Olympics, draw viewers to broadcast. But they also strengthen both linear broadcast and digital. John Lasker, ESPN’s VP/programing and acquisition, digital media, sees it as “parallel pathing” between the two. “Some great examples are the investment that we made in UFC. We wouldn’t have been able to do that if we were just sort of focused on linear. We wouldn’t be able to do that if we were just focused on DTC. [With] our investment in PGA Tour, we’re now sort of fully in on the golf business for 11 months out of the year because we have both linear and DTC.”

Cordella noted Thanksgiving weekend numbers “proved broadcast is still the best means of distributing content to the masses, at least top-tier sports content.” But his strategy at NBC includes reaching people outside traditional broadcast as well, noting the success it’s seeing with Telemundo for the World Cup. He points to NBC’s Big Ten deal as well: “There are gonna be eight or nine football games on Peacock next year. That wouldn’t happen if we didn’t have the broadcast asset in order to leverage.”

Cordella also points out how live sports helped boost other creative properties on Peacock, turning churn events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics into boosts for shows like “Bel Air” and “Dr. Death.”

CBS EVP Digital/Sports, News and Stations Jeffery Gerttula said that Paramount+’s strategy is like “three legs of a stool: sports, news and entertainment.” Big events, he says, drive subscription starts. And the consistent schedule of sports “pulls people through the service, and that benefits everything.”

WSJ’s Sarah Krause moderates this OTT panel with CBS’ Jeffrey Gerrtula, Bally’s Michael Schneider, ESPN’s John Lasker and NBC’s Rick Cordella

While gaming remains the “key business” for Quest headsets, Meta Director of North American Sports Partnerships Rob Shaw said he sees an emerging opportunity for co-watching experiences in virtual reality, reports SportTechie’s Joe Lemire from SBJ’s Media Innovators.

That was the driving force in the company’s partnership with YBVR to launch the Xtadium app. Sports will be shown in 2D and 3D, with NASCAR, UFC, One Championship, EuroLeague basketball, World Surf League and the upcoming All American Cup team tennis tournament. Some of it is offered free and on-demand, while authentication for live sports is also supported.

“It’s so important for me to figure out how could the business model be incremental to the sports industry,” Shaw said. “We’re not looking to start getting into the sports rights business. We’re not going to be competing for rights for VR. We want our partners to be able to exploit the rights that they have on our platform and be able to make incremental dollars.”

Shaw praised Amazon’s smart approach to alternative broadcasts on “TNF,” as well as what ESPN and Omaha Productions have done with the ManningCast on “MNF.” He mused out loud about the potential of a more immersive ManningCast, with the quarterbacking brothers appearing to join viewers in their dens, and also speculated about the appeal of alumni reuniting in the metaverse to watch their alma mater on a college football Saturday: “It’s not just about the people that you’re listening to as the broadcasters, but who you’re watching it with.”

Meta is working actively to create a UFC environment in Horizon Worlds, as it did with the NBA during last year’s playoffs. Shaw noted that the NBA activation drew tens of thousands of concurrent users at times, far more than what a team’s arena could hold.

Meta’s Rob Shaw (l) said the concept of VR watch parties was the driving force behind the Xtadium app

Timbers and NWSL Thorns owner Merritt Paulson‘s company, Peregrine Sports, intends to sell the Thorns while retaining ownership of the Timbers, writes SBJ’s Alex Silverman. BDT Capital is handling the sale process for Peregrine.

A club source said Paulson expects the Thorns to fetch at least $60 million on the open market, which would be a record price for a controlling interest in an NWSL club. Several entities have publicly expressed interest in possibly buying either the Thorns or both clubs from Paulson. Former Nike exec Melanie Strong has spoken to Paulson, and a group called Onward Rose City led by Elevate Capital exec partner Chris Bright has said it hopes to facilitate community ownership.

The move comes after a U.S. Soccer investigation led by former U.S. Attorney Sally Yates found that Paulson vouched for former Thorns coach Paul Riley despite being aware of allegations of sexual abuse against him, and that the organization failed to cooperate with the probe. As part of today’s announcement, Paulson pledged $1 million to establish a NWSL player safety office, adding that he loves first-year Commissioner Jessica Berman’s vision for the league.

Discover returns this weekend for its sixth year as presenting sponsor of the Big Ten Football Championship, leading a roster of 15 conference sponsors, reports SBJ’s David Broughton. Discover was the first — and only — brand to attach itself as presenting sponsor for the game, which began in 2011.

Other sponsor activation will include Friday night’s Georgia Street Block Party presented by Meijer and Saturday’s Fan Fest presented by Dr Pepper (the conference’s oldest sponsor) at the Indiana Convention Center. Lucas Oil is not a conference sponsor, but will again get exposure as the naming rights sponsor for the host venue in Indianapolis, which has hosted the game since its inception.

Other Fan Fest activations include: State Farm’s QB Toss challenge at with an inflatable helmet tunnel and AR-Flick-Football game; TIAA’s fan sweepstakes includes a sideline experience for four winners; Dr Pepper will gain exposure via its 14th annual Tuition Toss halftime activation, where students throw footballs through an inflatable soda can to win financial assistance for college.

No. 2 Michigan will face unranked Purdue at 8pm ET on Fox, the same slot as last year’s game, which featured Michigan’s first title game appearance and delivered 11.7 million viewers. The conference this fall finalized new media rights contracts with CBS, Fox and NBC that will begin in the 2023-2024 school year. It marks the most lucrative conference rights deal in the history of college athletics.

Big Ten sponsor roster
Dr Pepper Soft drink 1997
Gatorade Sports drink 1998
Discover Credit card 2017
Meijer Groceries 2017
State Farm Insurance 2017
Marathon Petroleum Fuel 2021
TIAA Retirement planning 2021
TicketSmarter Secondary ticket marketplace 2021
Cleveland Cliffs Steel 2021
Illinois Office of Tourism Tourism 2021
Velveeta Snack/Cheese 2021
Old Trapper Beef jerky 2022
Compass Media Networks Audio 2022
Campbells Soup 2022
Vita Coco Coconut water 2022

Andrew Marchand and John Ourand co-hosted a bonus episode of their weekly podcast at SBJ’s Media Innovators conference in N.Y. The live audience attending the late afternoon taping were treated to “MandO Mojitos.”

For the live show, Marchand and Ourand document the strategies across sports media companies, including CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC, Amazon, Apple and Netflix. The duo also answer audience questions and had the same “Who’s Up/Who’s Down” segment that is a regular part of the “Marchand & Ourand Sports Media Podcast.”

Click on the image below for the audio-only bonus podcast:

click on image to listen

The NFL announced the NFL Zone today, its foray into the metaverse aspects of Fortnite as the league continues efforts to appeal to young people who may not be watching games on TV. The first NFL Zone map features the 49ers (the Steelers and Giants are next), and 49ers VP/Digital and Social Media David Eisenberg said the team helped design a map that fits the team’s personality and 78-year legacy, reports SBJ’s Jason Wilson. It reflects the California Gold Rush, with stony mountains and a Sutter’s Mill-esque setpiece.

This Fortnite partnership comes at a time the NFL is employing a complementary strategy to game-metaverse engagement. It’s released two games in Roblox, and the NFL first started dabbling with Fortnite content in 2018.

“We are always keeping an eye on culture and digital trends,” Eisenberg said. “By venturing further into gaming with the NFL Zone, we’re aiming to authentically reach and connect with new and existing fans alongside, while supporting our partners at Visa.

And considering that Fortnite reaches millions of daily players on gaming consoles like PlayStation and Xbox, PC and mobile devices, it’s an important platform for the NFL – or any other sports entity — to play in.

“Gaming is an important part of our broader interest to continue identifying new digitally enabled experiences that allow us to reach and connect with fans,” Eisenberg said.

The 49ers’ Fortnite map brings to mind Sutter’s Mill, where the California Gold Rush started

In this week’s SBJ Marketing newsletter, Terry Lefton examines:

  • What will FTX impact be on broader crypto category in sports?
  • Does the crypto category have a future?
  • Crypto category was also a boon for properties using it as leverage

  • The NBA is planning for the inaugural version of its in-season tournament — should it become reality — to begin early next season, according to a memo sent to teams Wednesday, reports the AP
  • U.S.Iran at the FIFA World Cup averaged a combined 15.5 million viewers across Fox and Telemundo on Tuesday afternoon, reports SBJ’s Austin Karp, with Fox delivering just over 12 million in English and Telemundo drawing 3.5 million in Spanish. For three USMNT matches, Fox averaged 11.7 million viewers, the best English-language figure yet for the USMNT in the group stage.
  • PointsBet will be the first U.S. sportsbook to integrate the PGA Tour’s full menu of in-play bets into its app next year as part of an expansion of its deal with Tour data distributor IMG Arena, writes SBJ’s Bill King.
  • Bleacher Report‘s soccer platform, B/R Football, has been the top soccer media publisher on social media during the first two weeks of the FIFA World Cup, per data from Sprinklr. The platform’s 52.5 million engagements leads ESPN FC (39.4 million) and Fox Soccer (4.1 million). B/R Football’s top post has been a TikTok video featuring Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi that has racked up 5.5 million engagements (and 65.3 million video views).
  • The NFL and Amazon Web Services launched a new crowdsourced innovation contest — the NFL Contact Detection Challenge — with the goal of gathering data to help the league predict/prevent injuries, reports SportTechie’s Joe Lemire.
  • The ACC has its first exclusive experience deal, signing RevelXP as the provider for creating, selling and hosting premium hospitality events for games, including the ACC Football Championship on Saturday in Charlotte.
  • Michelob Ultra, the NBA’s official beer since 2020, is bringing back its team-branded cans for this season. Starting Dec. 5, 19 special-edition cans, designed by six artists, will be available in the relevant markets.

Mich Ultra this year produced specialty cans branded with 19 different NBA teams

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Mark Lazarus talks Peacock’s potential for sports


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