NBC will will offer live digital streams of all its marquee sports events — including action on its NBC Sports Network cable channel and Golf Channel.
NBC has already had extensive live streaming of its TV coverage, including action from the Olympics as well as racing’s Triple Crown, Notre Dame football, tennis’ French Open and its Sunday night NFL games.
But NBC will greatly expand the on-air TV tonnage it makes available digitally. NBCSports.com will go from live streaming about 300 hours last year (excluding Olympic coverage) to about 4,000 hours this year — and go from streaming about 110 events last year to about 1,000 events in 2013.
NBC’s move also represents the opening of another media front in what could develop into the biggest-ever challenge to ESPN’s dominance — the collective efforts by NBC, Fox and CBS to challenge ESPN in various media areas.
Rick Cordella(AT), senior vice president for the NBC Sports Group’s digital media, tells USA TODAY Sports that “we’re streaming every thing where we have the rights to do it.”
Meaning that now just about every prominent event NBC has will be streamed.
Among the NBC action that will be streamed: All NHL playoff games — including first-ever streams of the Stanley Cup. that will be up from just 12 NHL playoff games being streamed last season.
Also, NBC will offer its first-ever live streams of Major League Soccer, IndyCar, English Premier League soccer and Formula One, including Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix (2:30 a.m. ET), as well as races leading up to the Triple Crown such as Saturday’s Arkansas Derby (6 p.m. ET)
NBC’s weekend coverage of golf’s U.S. Open might also be streamed for the first time, but that hasn’t been finalized.
NBC’s Cordella notes that the TV industry notion of live video streams eating into -- or cannibalizing TV ratings -- is long dead. Rather than cutting into TV ratings, he says, streams are meant for users “when they can’t get in front of their 50-inch flat-screen TVs. We’re not trying to take anybody away from their TVs -- this is for folks who can’t get to their couches.”
TV audiences are generally much bigger than those attracted by digital streaming, Cordella says it’s hard to generalize about those gaps in size. And, he says, it’s hard to generalize how many users are resorting to streaming because they can’t get to TV sets and how many are using streams as a sort of second screen while they are watching TV.
But here’s an example of usage: NBC drew about 20 million TV viewers for its Sunday night NFL games, while averaging about 500,000 digital users. About one-third of the digital users were using it as a second screen while watching TV.
NBC’s online streaming, which is free to users who can verify they get paid TV through Cablevision, Comcast, Sudden Link or Verizon FiOS, will initially reach about 35 million of the 100 million total cable/satellite TV subscribers.
NBC’s new efforts represent the greatest challenge so far to ESPN in live event streaming. But in this area, ESPN has a big lead: Digital streams from ESPN’s various TV channels, in addition to its ESPN3 broadband channel that shows events not airing on TV, collectively offer 17,600 hours of live-event programming as well as 9,500 hours of live studio shows.
While ESPN has been active in saturation coverage in the days leading up to big events, the broadcast networks are getting more aggressive there -- as CBS had days of coverage leading up to its Super Bowl last season and Fox plans to do the same next year.
NBC and CBS have been more aggressive with their general-interest sports channels, and Fox will launch its own FS1 all-sports channel Aug. 17. CBS and NBC recently joined Fox in offering nationally-syndicated sports radio — an area where ESPN is dominant.