Comcast says it will close one of three national sports networks operated under its NBC Universal subsidiary brand.
The announcement to shut down NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) was made in a memo sent to employees Friday afternoon.
“At the conclusion of 2021, we have decided that the best strategic next step for our Sports Group and the entire Company is to wind down NBCSN completely,” Peter Bavacqua, the chairman of NBC Sports, said in the memo.
It was not clear if there would be any layoffs at NBC Sports Network or any other Comcast divisions as a result of the closure.
Some sports programming that had been carried on NBC Sports Network, including telecasts of National Hockey League games, will move to USA Network for cable distribution. Other sports will move to Comcast’s streaming-only service Peacock. Premiere League soccer matches already stream on Peacock, and those matches will be joined by a slew of other events and programs starting in 2022.
The shutdown will leave NBC’s The Olympic Channel and the Golf Channel as the only national sports networks operated by Comcast. NBC Sports-branded regional channels are expected to continue operating as well.
The decision to close NBC Sports Network comes as Comcast tries to stem losses associated with “cord-cutting” as households move away from traditional cable and satellite bundles in favor of cheaper, online-only offerings.
Comcast’s portfolio of national cable networks, including USA Network, Bravo, SyFy, E!, MSNBC, CNBC and Oxygen, are carried on many over-the-top streaming cable TV alternatives like YouTube TV, Fubo TV and Hulu with Live TV. But requirements that these services also carry more-expensive sports channels has driven the subscription costs of these services toward cable-like prices.
Comcast’s cable networks have lost viewers every year since 2014, according to Nielsen figures cited by the Wall Street Journal on Friday. Comcast has responded to these losses by programming re-runs of its original and licensed programming — the Harry Potter franchise, which Comcast has the exclusive cable rights to for several more years, airs constantly on its cable networks alongside re-runs of “Chrisley Knows Best,” “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” and other low-tier programs.
Comcast has also struggled to attract viewers to NBC Sports Network compared to Disney and Hearst’s ESPN and Fox Corporation’s Fox Sports 1 (FS1), which overall offers more-compelling programs and events from the National Football League, Major League Baseball and Ultimate Fighting Championship.
The Journal says those factors combined could have provoked Comcast executives to move its few sports programs that do draw ratings to USA Network, with the hope that sports on USA Network could make the channel more attractive to cable and satellite distributors. In that respect, it would make USA Network a rival to AT&T’s TBS and TNT, which also offer a mixture of general entertainment, movies and sports, the Journal said.