While Disney’s purchase of Fox assets (and the subsequent regulator-required sale of the Fox regional sports networks) has received much of the media merger ink this year, the end run Comcast pulled to acquire Sky is interesting in its own right, and has notable implications for Comcast-owned NBC. We’ve already seen NBC and Sky team up for English Premier League transfer deadline coverage, NBCSN air an hour of Sky Sports News on weekdays, and Sky shoulder programming added to the over-the-top NBC Premier League Pass offering, and NBC announced last week that their coverage of the start of the Premier League season this coming weekend (which will include sending both announcing teams and studio crews to England) will include their first-ever production from Sky’s studios.
And, perhaps most importantly, a piece from John Ourand at Sports Business Journal indicates that the Sky purchase has given NBC significant leverage in Premier League scheduling:
The most obvious change that viewers will notice is the quality of games available for NBC’s broadcast window at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturdays. NBC is working with Sky to schedule better games in that window, like the Manchester City-Tottenham game on Aug. 17 and the Liverpool-Arsenal game on Aug. 24. BT held the rights to that 12:30 package last season. This season, it’s part of Sky’s package.
“While we would have televised those games in the past, they would not normally have fallen within the NBC window,” said Jon Miller, NBC Sports’ programming president. “Now that we are under the same corporate umbrella as Sky, we’re going to work with them this season to help schedule those and maximize the best matches in that window.”
That’s quite interesting, as matchups of teams with big U.S. fanbases are critical for U.S. TV ratings, and putting those in windows on NBC instead of NBCSN should boost the overall audience. That isn’t always the biggest consideration for media companies, which sometimes like to promote their cable networks at the expense of overall audience (see Stanley Cup Final games on NBCSN, MLB playoff games on FS1, Clemson’s season opener on ACC Network, etc) to give those networks carriage leverage. But in the case of NBC’s Premier League coverage, emphasizing the broadcast matchups over the cable ones feels like a smart play.
Matches of teams with smaller U.S. fanbases airing on NBCSN instead of NBC probably isn’t significant enough to make a big difference for carriage and subscribers (and given that carriage is usually decided on multi-year deals, discussions there are often about numbers of games on a network, not specific matchups). But matchups of big-fanbase teams could significantly juice the NBC ratings, and mean that more people overall are watching NBC’s Premier League coverage.
And the cable-to-broadcast difference is a big one; Nielsen estimated 119.9 million U.S. TV homes for the 2018-19 broadcast season, but the April carriage estimates (the most recent ones we’ve seen) had NBCSN with 82.8 million homes. So that’s 37.1 million more people who could conceivably watch a NBC match than a NBCSN one. And that’s to say nothing of people who get both channels, but more readily check NBC than NBCSN for something to watch. Thus, getting more attractive matchups for NBC windows as a result of the Sky deal could make a notable impact on the numbers of U.S. viewers watching the Premier League. It’s not the only attractive synergy out of the Sky deal, though, as Miller told Ourand:
“We’ve known these guys since we started our Premier League relationship back in 2012 and ’13,” Miller said. “Now that we are all under the same umbrella, we are able to work closely together on everything from sharing resources to game scheduling to cross promotion to sharing content to sharing talent. It’s really a unique partnership.”
The boosted Premier League synergy is far from the only thing or the most important element that Comcast gains from their purchase of Sky (in particular, it makes them a big player in the UK and other parts of Europe), but it’s still an important aspect of this deal. And it’s interesting to see how much NBC has been able to leverage their new corporate sibling on Premier League coverage so far. Expect to see even more of that in the days ahead.