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NBC Sports Chairman: 2020 Summer Olympics will feature most live TV hours ever

NBCUniversal Media LLC's cable sports network NBCSN (US) has scored a 33% increase in in prime-time viewers for the year through Dec. 9, boosted in part by coverage of the 2018 Winter Games, and NBC Broadcasting and Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus is already looking ahead to 2020.

Speaking at the Sports Video Group Summit on Dec. 11, Lazarus said that with Tokyo 13 hours ahead of the east coast time zone in the U.S., there will be extensive live coverage of the 2020 Summer Games in prime time and late night. He predicted the 2020 Games will be the most-televised live Olympics in U.S. history. Although a number of the attendant sports federations are still working through scheduling for their events, NBC Sports will benefit from live swimming coverage, and much of the gymnastics competition will also air in prime time in the U.S., Lazarus said.

The executive said there will be 1,200 people working on the Tokyo Olympics at NBC Sports' headquarters in Stamford, Conn., in addition to the contingent on-the-ground in Tokyo. The new Telemundo Center, outside of Miami, will also be in play, as the Spanish-language broadcaster will have an expanded schedule for the summer event.

With three weeks remaining in 2018, NBCSN is poised to record its best year ever in terms of live + same day audience in both prime time and total-day. The network averaged 414,000 prime-time viewers through Dec. 9, according to data from Nielsen Holdings PLC, up from 311,000 in 2017 and 383,000 in 2016, when the network aired some of the Summer Olympics from Rio de Janeiro.

Gauged on a total-day basis, NBCSN averaged 191,000 viewers through Dec. 9, a 40% rise from 136,000 during 2017 and a 14% gain above the 168,000 average audience in 2016.

Those deliveries will vault NBCSN to the No. 2 spot among national sports cable networks in both measures, the programmer said, marking the first time any genre network other than ESPN2 (US) has ranked second behind perennial category leader, ESPN (US).

As for other sports programming, NBC (US)'s "Sunday Night Football" has seen a 7% viewership gain for its season to date, Lazarus said, putting it on track for an eighth consecutive season as the most-watched show in prime time.

Addressing parent Comcast Corp.'s acquisition of Sky PLC, Lazarus said that from a sports programming perspective both companies present Premier League soccer, golf and NFL action, which will enable them to share content and on-air talent. Down the road, he said the union could also lead the companies to make more expansive, comprehensive rights bids.

Asked about the 22 regional sports networks owned by Fox Sports that Walt Disney Co. must divest in order to gain U.S. Justice Department approval of its deal to buy most 21st Century Fox Inc. assets, Lazarus said the company did not have serious interest because it was unlikely any deals for the RSNs within Comcast's footprint would pass regulatory muster.

He said vertical integration of the RSNs in markets where NBC also owns television stations and Comcast is a major cable operator has largely informed the company's strategy in this space. NBC Sports is already the second-largest owner of RSNs in the U.S. with seven of those services.