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NBC Sports Net may be slow to deliver for IndyCar
The first edition of NBC Sports Network’s “Costas Tonight” was exactly what the network’s executives wanted: NBC Sports’ biggest on-air star, Bob Costas, interviewing a who’s-who list of top sports personalities from the Super Bowl. Only 108,000 viewers watched it live.

One of the first shows to appear on the newly rebranded channel was a documentary called “Cold War on Ice.” Again, it was exactly the type of show NBC Sports covets for its all-sports cable channel: a high-quality documentary from one of the best producers in the business, former HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg.

It drew only 167,000 viewers for its Jan. 2 premiere.

To put these numbers in perspective, the least viewed show on ESPN last month still drew 108,000 viewers: a repeat episode of “World Series of Poker” that ran opposite the thrilling ending of the Giants-49ers NFC Championship game on Saturday, Jan. 22 (9:30-10 p.m.).

A month into NBC Sports Network’s rebrand, and more than a year after the Peacock’s sports division took over Versus, the channel has seen viewership levels drop considerably.

Despite heavy promotion on the NBC broadcast network and a focus on higher-quality shows, viewership for NBC Sports Network is down 21 percent on a total-day basis from January 2011 to January 2012. In January 2011, Versus averaged 78,000 viewers. In January 2012, the first month of NBC Sports Network, that figure dropped to 62,000.

“We knew coming into this that if we were going to change this network and create, basically, a new sports network from scratch, we’re going to have some short-term issues ratings-wise,” said Jon Miller, president of programming at NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network. “But understand at the end of the day, it’s a long race. And slow-and-steady wins it.”

What makes the ratings drop so surprising is the fact that the channel’s live event programming has performed well over the past year. The channel’s NHL telecasts are up 7 percent so far this season to average 333,000 viewers per game. IndyCar viewership for the 2011 season was up 11 percent with an average of 402,000 viewers per race.

In fact, NBC Sports says the channel’s overall prime-time viewership for the year ending Jan. 28, 2012, is up 5 percent compared with the previous year. That increase comes on the back of its live events.

So the live-event strategy seems to be working, a direction spearheaded by new NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus. But it is NBC Sports Network’s new higher-quality shows that have not found an audience yet. In fact, its new shows are pulling in lower audiences than programming from Versus, which was much cheaper to produce. Sportsbusinessdaily.com
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