NBC Has Secured the Olympics, So What Happens Next?

By Alex Weprin 

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For the first time in many years, NBC was the underdog to secure the Olympics. The conventional wisdom was that ESPN would make a strong bid, while Fox Sports became the favorite late in the game. But when it was all said and done, NBC–even without longtime Olympics booster Dick Ebersol–emerged victorious, securing the rights to the games through 2020.

The news caught many people by surprise, with plenty of people happy, and others disappointed. At an awards ceremony yesterday, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, whose company sat out the bidding, announced the news to guests, “God help them,” he quipped regarding the bid.

When we asked a handful of Olympics fans what they were most excited for and most disappointed out about NBC’s win, we saw a few trends. Far and away they liked the NBC broadcast team, led by Bob Costas. On the other hand, they were disappointed because they also wanted to see their favorite events live, rather than having to wait hours until primetime to watch. Ebersol was a strong advocate for tape delaying events.

New NBC Sports chief Mark Lazarus addressed the live issue in an interview with Lester Holt:

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“We have done a lot of learning over the years,” Lazarus said. “I think you will see we will start to provide more live coverage on multiple platforms.”

Indeed, while it may not happen in 2012, I would look for many–if not most–marquee events to be available live either online or on a cable network like Versus. Doing so would boost the value of those respective platforms. People that were busy when the events were on can still wait until primetime to watch on NBC.

I would also expect NBCUniversal to launch an Olympics channel, wither a new one or a re-brand of Universal Sports, sometime in the next few years. Comcast bid what it did because they think they can make money. Adding sub fees and subscribers to channels like Versus are a big part of it, and if they can build another channel out of it, even better.

In the near-term, expect the 2012 Olympics to be very similar to the last few. The lead-time necessary to produce the games is substantial, so work was already well-underway when Ebersol left. But starting in 2014, you can expect some changes to come to NBC’s coverage of the games.

And yes, you should expect to be able to watch events live, even if they might be on your computer.