NBCSN to shutter by the end of the year

NBCUniversal to shift events to USA Network and streamer Peacock

In a move some pundits were predicting, it’s the end of the road for NBC Sports Network – or NBCSN, as the cable sports channel announced Friday it was closing its doors by the end of the year. 

NBCSN is currently the home of the NHL, NASCAR, Premier League Soccer, cycling, Atlantic-10 college basketball, and other sports. It’s likely USA Network would be able to absorb some of these events as soon as this year while NBCUniversal’s new streaming service Peacock could absorb others. A few select NHL playoff games already air on USA, a cable channel who held rights to MLB, NBA, NHL, and boxing in the 1980s under the previous joint ownership of MCA (now NBCUniversal) and Paramount (now part of ViacomCBS.) Successor-in-interest Universal bought out the rest of Paramount’s (by this time owned by Viacom) stake in the late 1990s. NBC and Universal merged in 2004, and acquired by Comcast in 2011

Already, Peacock has acquired a few IndyCar races and have been placed on a higher-paid tier. 

NBCSN’s roots lie within the Outdoor Life Network, (later shortened to OLN), launched in 1995 by Comcast. After ESPN passed on renewing the NHL, the league wound up on OLN in 2005, renamed Versus a year later. After Comcast purchased NBCUniversal, the channel was renamed NBC Sports Network, then later NBCSN. 

The decision to shutter NBCSN will have some implications for the NHL. In 2011, Comcast paid a whopping $2 billion for exclusive NHL rights for NBC and NBCSN, an outgrowth of a revenue-sharing deal with NBC dating back to 2004 when the network did not pay a rights fee.  The deal ends after this current season, and it’s unlikely NBCUniversal would retain exclusive rights given the league wants to split the package – raising the possibility of the league returning to ESPN and Fox Sports with Turner and CBS Sports also in the mix. 

NBCUniversal’s Golf and Olympic channels are not affected by Friday’s actions. 

The demise of NBCSN can be blamed on several factors: the abundance of cord-cutting as many households have dropped their cable subscriptions; tough competition from ESPN; and the impact from Covid-19, cancelling sporting events worldwide, resulting in a loss of revenue; and of course, the growing popularity of streaming. 

The attempt to compete with ESPN was often futile, with the since-departed Dan Patrick Show the only program to have a significant run on NBCSN. Indeed, their programming outside of live or taped sporting events consisted of second and third-tier stuff such as auto auctions, infomercials, and reruns of American Ninja Warrior. Other original programming included Costas Tonight and Pro Football Talk Live. Despite the tepidness of the schedule, NBCSN performed decently in the ratings, ahead of ESPN 2, MLB Network, and the CBS Sports Network.  

Back in 2017, I wrote a piece titled “Cable At The Crossroads”, as the growing popularity of streaming and cord-cutting was effecting the cable TV stratosphere. Ironically, eleven of the twelve networks I listed in trouble are still hanging in there as the number of cable closures slowed. But with the economy tanking due to Covid-19, the pace has picked up again with the recent closures of El Rey Network and digital subchannel Light TV, and more are coming in the months and years ahead as the industry is adjusting to the new way of watching television and it’s increasingly less and less through a cable cord or a satellite dish. 

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