Neophyte NBC Sports Network Could Benefit From A Super Boost

NBC Sports Network, the cable channel formerly known as Versus, will present twenty hours of programming live from the site of Super Bowl XLVI next week, including the debut of the new series "Costas Tonight," hosted by Bob Costas. That could be a pivotal week for NBCSN in terms of ratings.

On January 2 of this year, timed with the conclusion of the annual NHL Winter Classic, the NBC Sports Network was officially up and running. The network originally known as Outdoor Life Network for the first dozen years of its existence, then as Versus for the next half-dozen, relaunched with the new name in order to reflect the merger between Comcast, the cable network’s original owner, and NBC.

Three weeks into the new era, it’s a given that they’re not getting gigantic ratings, despite the previous Versus households being grandfathered into their new identity. But one telling sign that NBCSN hasn’t really established itself yet is their new Facebook page: after 23 days, they have 42 “likers” – or an average of two fans per day.

It’s a start.

With extensive hockey coverage thanks to their decade-long contract with the NHL, NBCSN is the go-to network for hockey fans. In addition, they also present original programming, such as “NBC SportsTalk”, whose title possesses synergy with the family of NBC Sports websites, including the popular Pro Football Talk. They also air a weekly show about sports business, hosted by CNBC personality (and Twitter force to be reckoned with) Darren Rovell. So NBCSN is also offering an alternative to those who choose not to watch (or are sick and tired of) ESPN, or NFL Network (which may not be available in a viewer’s area), or maybe even CBS Sports Network (did anyone notice CBS College Sports quietly morphed into their new name about nine months before NBC’s identical move?).

The future is promising for NBCSN, but like all cable networks in their infancy, they could use a shot in the arm.

And they might get it – in the form of Super Bowl XLVI.

No, the “big game” will be on NBC. But the opportunity to raise awareness of NBC Sports Network lies in Indianapolis, the site of this year’s Super Bowl.

NBC released their Super Bowl programming schedule for next week. You can see that NBC is deploying all of their toys (i.e. broadcasting properties) as they see fit, even if the networks don’t traditionally specialize in football programming: David Feherty from The Golf Channel will host an edition of his “Feherty Live” show from Indianapolis. There will also be a dozen hours of programming on The Weather Channel. But NBC Sports Network alone accounts for roughly one-third of the 60+ Super Bowl-themed hours of programming among the NBC family of networks. (Nothing on Bravo or SyFy this year, I’m afraid.)

Think about it, though: If you take away the actual Super Bowl and its six-hour pregame on February 5, NBC Sports Network will be carrying more Super Bowl-devoted programming than NBC itself. That’s quite a responsibility for a channel that technically didn’t even appear on televisions for an entire month yet.

But that’s the game plan for a young network that’s trying to raise awareness of its existence among the hundreds of other cable networks on your lineup.

NBCSN’s Super Bowl programming consists of their daily “NBC SportsTalk” show, which (I am assuming) will emanate from the “radio row” area that is always buzzing during “Super Bowl Week”. Thursday’s edition will actually be extended one hour, leading into a brand new NBCSN program, “Costas Tonight,” hosted by the one and only Bob Costas, debuting at 8 PM ET.

Right there, that’s two factors that hopefully should attract eyeballs to NBC Sports Network: big name (Costas) plus big game (or at least, the backdrop).

And if the twenty-hour Super Bowl extravaganza doesn’t quite work out as planned for NBCSN, there’s still more months left in the year. Remember, it’s 2012 – and election years double as Summer Olympics years. The good thing about NBC having NBCSN at its disposal is that they can actually program some of the many competitions from London on there without hesitation. Compare that to the 2008 Olympic Games from Beijing, which not only aired over NBC, but USA Network, CNBC, MSNBC, and Oxygen. Plus the aforementioned Bravo and SyFy.

True, just months before the 2008 Olympics, the Universal Sports network was created, but it was available mostly as a subchannel for broadcast channels’ signals. Interestingly, NBC decided that it would no longer be delivered in a broadcast television format, being available exclusively on cable as of January 2 – the same day of the NBC Sports Network rebranding. Lest anyone thinks Universal Sports was absorbed by NBCSN; it still exists, and will continue to air global-oriented sports programming… maybe even some of the London Olympics (they have been carrying Olympics-qualifying events).

But back to NBCSN. In addition to the London Olympics, they will also air MLS matches. And of course, they’ll be carrying NHL playoff games, just as they had been when they were known as Versus.

2012 shows a lot of potential for NBC Sports Network.

The potential to get off to a Super start.

Heck, reaching the 50-fan plateau on Facebook would be a great start.

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