Saturday, May 10, 2014
Arlo White might encourage viewers to change the channel.
White is the play-by-play announcer Sunday for the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United on NBC. At the same time, Liverpool will be facing Newcastle on NBCSN, and White plans to keep his audience updated on how that game is going — and what that means for the title race.
Ten matches will air simultaneously on 10 different NBCUniversal networks on Championship Sunday. In the first season of its three-year, $250 million deal to broadcast English soccer's top league in the U.S., NBC has embraced the value of offering viewers choices. Beyond the main televised matches, fans were able to watch other games online or through certain cable companies.
That culminates with Sunday's unprecedented setup, when some networks not exactly associated with sports will air matches. USA, CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo, Syfy, Esquire Network, E! and Oxygen are also showing games on the season's final day.
"It makes my life easier to know I don't have to make a decision," said coordinating producer Pierre Moossa.
NBC's initial strategy to give many viewers access to every game at no additional cost was an acknowledgment that for the company's investment to pay off, it needed to grow interest in the sport. Through some combination of the already surging popularity of international soccer, NBC's promotional efforts, and the matches' availability in more homes, viewership has soared this season. Games on NBC and NBCSN have averaged 440,000 viewers, nearly double the 221,000 on ESPN, ESPN2 and Fox Soccer a year ago.
Sunday morning's broadcasts all start at 10 a.m. They are the latest — and biggest — example of network executives' shift toward letting audiences pick for themselves. CBS and Turner Sports are four years into their deal to air every NCAA basketball tournament game live across multiple channels for the first time, which has been a ratings success.
NBC has long used multiple networks to broadcast the Olympics. But it has greatly expanded the options the last two games, streaming every event live online and offering a separate live telecast of the figure skating on NBCSN from Sochi in February before repackaging the competition on tape delay for prime time.
"The nature of our culture is you want that choice," Moossa said.
The choices won't be quite as juicy Sunday as NBC might've dreamed. Manchester City should need just a tie to clinch the title; Liverpool is the only other club with a chance. Relegation is likely also already determined.
But should any news be in the making at a match other than his, White won't hesitate to let viewers know — even if that means they click away for a bit.
"In those 90 minutes, the story is going to change, is going to jump around," White said. "My job is to anchor that and steer people in the right direction."