NBCUniversal will shut down its dedicated sports TV channel, NBC Sports Network (NBCSN), by the end of 2021, the company announced in a memo covered by Deadline. NBCSN, which Comcast originally launched in 1995, is expected to spread its sports coverage across both Peacock and USA Network.
NHL games and NASCAR events will move to USA Network, while Peacock will provide a streaming option for viewers. English Premier League games have already streamed multiple times on Peacock, but the future of US coverage for the soccer league has yet to be determined. In addition, NBC just landed a deal with WWE Network for Peacock to serve as the exclusive home of the wrestling entertainment company’s events in the US – overseas, WWE Network will continue to operate separately. Although the details of the partnership were not made public, The Wall Street Journal has reported that the WWE deal was in the neighborhood of 5 years for $1 billion, which speaks to how incredibly invested NBC is in establishing Peacock as a go-to streaming destination for sports.
Sports programming remains one of the most coveted types of content for networks and streaming platforms because of its ability to capture large scale, passionate, and engaged audiences that can attract advertisers and generate significant revenues. Disney already has a strong foothold in the space via its ESPN+ streaming service, and ViacomCBS’ rebranded Paramount+ is putting an emphasis on numerous sports, including the NFL. Meanwhile, Amazon exclusively streamed an NFL game last year, and HBO Max is expected to ramp up its sports offerings as well – HBO parent company WarnerMedia owns the rights to numerous MLB and NBA broadcasts via its Turner Sports division.
“What began as a trickle of sports to streaming a few short years ago has become a flood in 2021,” said Brett Sappington, Vice President at Interpret. “The closing of NBCSN and NBCUniversal’s shift of sports content to streaming underscores the intensity of this trend in live sports distribution. As viewers become accustomed to watching sports though streaming, advertisers will follow.”
For many viewers, sports loyalties are often an incentive to stick with cable or satellite, but as more streaming platforms pursue sports programming, the media landscape is likely to change. The good news for NBCUniversal is that Peacock subscribers and USA Network viewers are very interested in sports. According to Interpret’s New Media Measure®, while 63% of the general US population watches sports, 80% or more of both Peacock and USA Network audiences regularly follow sports, with particular interest in the Winter and Summer Olympics, as well as NHL games.