Ski racing fans who were disappointed to learn that the Universal Sports Network is no more need not fret about accessing World Cup coverage this winter. NBC Sports Group has announced its formal acquisition of the assets of the now defunct Universal Sports Network from World Championship Sports Network, which include the broadcast rights to nearly all FIS events this season across a number of platforms.
There will be coverage of ski racing in the U.S. this year, and its scope will be unprecedented.
USSA and NBC Sports Group will partner to bring snowsports fans unparalleled access to numerous events this winter in all disciplines through broadcasts on the Universal HD network, NBC Sports Network (NBCSN), as well as on desktops, laptops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs through the NBC Sports Live Extra streaming service.
“Acquiring these valuable media rights builds on our long-term investment in the Olympic Games through 2032, and reaffirms our commitment to Olympic sports and the stories of the great athletes who compete in them,” said NBC Olympics President, Gary Zenkel. “We now have a great opportunity to engage with the Olympic-sport audience year round and inspire the next generation of Olympic fans, which is a critical part of our ongoing Olympic strategy.”
NBC Sports’ schedule outlines the broadcast and streaming plans for each event this winter, including alpine, freeskiing (including ski cross), freestyle, cross-country, jumping, and Nordic combined. It is expected that the full schedule of Audi FIS World Cup alpine events will be available between Universal HD, NBCSN, and Live Extra Streaming.
“It’s available in more than 30 million homes,” said USSA Chief Marketing Officer, Michael Jaquet of the Universal HD network. “Universal Sports Network was in six million homes, so we’re at least going up by five times in distribution.”
Universal HD was founded as a network in 2004 and has served as a high definition overflow channel of sorts for NBC. Network availability is dependent on local television providers, but is accessible through most major cable and satellite services.
For example, Universal HD comes standard in Xfinity/Comcast’s Digital Starter TV package, which is advertised at approximately $45 per month for new customers, depending on location. Additionally, Universal HD is available as an add-on channel to DIRECTV’s HD Extra Pack for an additional $4.99 per month on top of standard service.
“We’ve had some content on there before,” added Jaquet. “Our ‘36’ shows have been on and actually have done really well on the channel with viewership. Not only is it wider distribution than Universal Sports Network, but it has great channel placement – it’s within a lot of other easily accessible and well-watched networks.”
NBC Live Extra is available through the NBC Sports website as well as via the NBC Sports Live Extra app. Content is accessible once users authenticate their cable or satellite subscriptions, but those subscriptions must include NBCSN in the channel line-up. Live Extra is also available through Apple TV, which enables access to video clips and other content, although a television subscription is still required to view live content there as well. Unfortunately, this leaves no option for fans without TV subscriptions to livestream events this winter.
According to Jaquet, with the overall viewership of Universal HD being 10 to 20 times higher on a daily basis compared to Universal Sports, the opportunity for more people than ever before to be exposed to professional snowsports should excite fans nationwide. And, as Jaquet explained, the future depends on it.
“Right now, this contract expires in April,” clarified Jaquet. “This is the 10th year of a 10-year contract. There are already talks underway about what the future looks like, and those talks will be heavily, heavily influenced by consumption of this content in the next few months. Basically, if the audience proves out and the appetite for the content proves out, we can pretty much guarantee the American fan base that coverage like this would continue.”
Essentially, the future of content availability is in the hands of viewers and the sports’ most devoted fans. Jaquet says that it’s going to be a struggle to push through another deal as comprehensive as this one if viewership isn’t strong this winter.
If there’s one thing fans can do to help ensure future coverage, it’s to vote with their remotes. Find Universal HD and NBCSN on your TV, set up NBC Live Extra on your computers and mobile devices, watch the events, and share this information with your family and friends.
The good news?
“The consumption of digital streaming, going back seven or eight years, was nowhere near what it is today,” said Jaquet. “It’s a perfect confluence of consumer activity, and now, availability of rights that sets us up really well. We just need to, as a community, embrace this and consume it, show our fandom, and we’ll be fine for years to come.”