Cross-Promotion Activities In Play As Comcast Takes Control Of NBCU

With Comcast officially taking control of NBC Universal from General Electric, plenty of synergies no doubt lie ahead on the programming, operational and technological fronts for joint venture.

The first manifestations of the new entity, though, have already hit the networks' air and related Websites promotionally, with touts for Versus' coverage of the NHL All-Star Game weekend from Jan. 28-30 and E!'s latest Kardashians franchise spinoff, Kourtney & Kim Take New York.

John Miller, who currently serves as chairman of the NBC Universal Marketing Council, which determines cross-channel prioritization, said "out of the gate, we wanted to try and focus on Comcast properties coming into the NBCU umbrella."

Miller, who will also lead the newly formed NBC Sports Agency that is patterned after the NBC Agency he helped establish in 1999 and promotes all of NBCU TV properties, said that with the new corporate combination as many as 20 networks and 40 Websites can be in play for cross-promotion prioritization activities.

He said to support Versus' coverage of the puck sport's All-Star Game festivities this weekend the networks ran six promos on Thursday (Jan. 27) and Friday (Jan. 28), while attendant Websites sported banner ads and 10-15 second video promos.

After the FCC and DOJ gave their approval to joint venture on Jan. 18, Miller said Comcast and NBCU were able to commence activities in areas the companies didn't compete, hence the cross-puck promotion actually faced off Jan. 23 with NBC's first regular-season game of 2010-11 campaign, including on-air announcer mentions trumpeting Versus' All-Star Game presentation.

The aim, said Miller, who came out of semiretirement last November after leading NBC marketing for 25 years to help with the integration between Comcast and NBCU, is twofold.

"We know the cross-channel targeting opportunity enhances ratings, but we also want to build awareness for those who might not know about Versus," he said. "Going forward, we'll be able to bring editorial opportunities to all of [the Comcast programming] assets as well."

After the hockey, NBCU's promotional focus shifted to Kourtney & Kim Take New York, whose Jan. 23 premiere attracted 3 million viewers for E!. The new series and Versus' NHL All-Star festivities alternated among other properties as the centerpiece on home page on Friday.

Among the holdings scheduled for the now expanded NBCU cross-channel prioritization in the weeks ahead: Oxygen's Feb. 5 Glee marathon; NBC News's Black History Month fare; The Eagle, a Focus Features theatrical that will open on Feb. 11;Telemundo novela La Reina Del Sur (The Queen of the South); and "Hockey Day in America" on Feb. 20

The latter encompasses a hockey tripleheader of sorts, starting with a trio of games that will be televised regionally on NBC, followed by Pittsburgh-Chicago in a national window on the broadcaster and then Versus' coverage of the Heritage Classic, an outdoor contest between Calgary and Montreal at McMahon Stadium in Calgary.

Golf Channel (Feb. 23-25) and NBC (Feb. 26-27) will also be able to bounce promotional activities and share resources during their coverage of the World Golf Championship-Accenture Match Play Championship from Marana, Ariz. More of that will take place, according to Miller, during the PGA Tour's subsequent "southern swing" with the cable network televising the Thursday and Friday rounds and NBC the concluding weekend action.

Miller, through the NBC Sports Agency, will be leading the marketing efforts for NBC Sports, which not only includes the broadcaster, Golf and Versus, but the 11 regional sports networks owned by Comcast. The process includes on-air identifiers indicating "part of NBC Sports" and "powered by NBC Sports" tags.

"We haven't had cable sports channels before, so we certainly want to bring all these resources together in terms of promoting properties and programming," he said.

Miller also noted that NBC Sports topper Dick Ebersol has talked about raising awareness and perhaps renaming Golf and Versus down the road.

Asked if those monikers might include "NBC," Miller said only that research indicates the name adds "credibility and a sense of more resources" in the minds of consumers.

Many observers expect that the pairing of broadcast network with the various cable holdings will lift NBC Sports' presence overall and could lead to a Versus becoming a more formidable national challenger to ESPN in terms of rights.

On that front, Versus and NBC, whose contracts with the NHL expire at the end of this season, are now expected to negotiate as one with the puck circuit. Moreover, Versus could see its profile rise -- and perhaps its monthly subscriber fee as well -- should NBC Sports succeed in retaining rights during the next round of Olympics bidding, which could come later this year and encompass the Games in 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020.