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Comcast could put regional sports networks on Peacock

The home screen of Comcast's streaming service Peacock.
The home screen of Comcast’s streaming service Peacock. (Graphic by The Desk)

Comcast is exploring ways to offer its regional sports cable channels through the streaming service Peacock, an executive affirmed at an industry conference this week.

The comment was made by Mark Lazarus, the chairman of NBC Universal’s Television and Streaming divisions, at the SBJ Media Innovators conference on Thursday.

Lazarus said Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, has been negotiating with sports leagues about moving its NBC Sports-branded regional cable networks to Peacock, with the move possible by the end of the year. The NBC Sports channels offer exclusive access to regular-season games played by the San Francisco Giants baseball team, the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, the San Jose Sharks, the Chicago Bulls basketball team and other franchises.

Live sports still drives a significant amount of viewership to cable and satellite, but revenue from those channels has waned as more customers ditch traditional pay television services due to rising fees. Customers who still want live sports have sought refuge in cheaper streaming options like Sling TV, Vidgo and Fubo TV, though the cost of carrying sports channels still requires customers to fork over quite a bit of cash each month.

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“The ecosystem won’t support what we’re currently paying,” Lazarus said, noting that sports programmers and the leagues themselves will eventually be impacted to the point that the current distribution model for delivering live sports telecasts will fall apart.

Competing media companies, including Paramount Global and the Walt Disney Company, have worked diligently over the last few years to integrate live sports content into premium streaming experiences. Paramount has offered access to live NFL telecasts through Paramount Plus (formerly CBS All Access), with a subscription starting at $5 a month. Disney has incorporated more live sports into its ESPN Plus product, which costs $10 a month; ESPN Plus recently became the exclusive provider of live, out-of-market NHL games.

Comcast’s streaming sports initiatives have been something of a mixed bag, in part because Peacock has to compete for attention and dollars with its legacy cable channels. During the recent Summer Olympic games, a handful of events popular with American audiences were offered live through Peacock, but some niche competitions were relegated to Comcast-owned cable channels like CNBC, USA Network and NBCSN (the latter was shut down late last year).

NBC’s most popular sports franchise, Sunday Night Football, has been easier to access without cable or satellite: Comcast’s distribution agreement with the NFL allows it to offer live telecasts of national games through Peacock. The service currently makes those games available to anyone who pays for the premium tier of Peacock, which starts at $5 a month (some Comcast Xfinity customers get that tier for free).

Lazarus offered few details about the economics of offering regional sports networks beyond the traditional cable or satellite bundle, but said teams would stand to benefit from any such deal if they agreed to the plan.

“It’s going to be more of a share-the-risk mentality,” he said, noting that franchises and leagues could earn a cut of subscription revenue in markets where Comcast offers live access to sports carried on its regional networks.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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