NBC, Golf Channel Find Their Groove on the Course

This week’s Honda Classic will mark the second golf outing for the newly created NBC Sports Group, when NBC Sports and Golf Channel team up to cover all four days of the tournament from Palm Beach Gardens, FL. Last week, at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, the two networks debuted “Golf Channel on NBC,” a look that melds the two networks’ logos, graphics packages, and philosophies into one.

“We know those guys already from doing production on all their early-round coverage, and we work very well with them,” says Tommy Roy, executive producer for NBC Sports Group’s golf coverage. “However, now we’ve truly merged our brands.”

The newly formed Comcast-NBC Universal has had few chances thus far to stretch its collective wings, but “Golf Channel on NBC” marks the first example of on-air synergy in Comcast’s attempt to incorporate NBC’s assets into its sports portfolio. This week, Comcast Chairman/CEO Brian Roberts referred to the Accenture Match Play Championship as “the first time you could see some of the synergy” between Comcast and NBC Universal.

Business as Usual in the Truck Compound
In terms of production operations, however, it has essentially been business as usual for both networks. NBC Sports previously produced Golf Channel’s early-round coverage for any tournament that NBC carried during the weekend, making the early stages of the transition nearly seamless.

“It’s virtually the same as it was before, because we used to provide the feed to them anyway,” says Roy. “It’s not like they had their own trucks on-site; it all came from us, and they would just send their own announcers. We expect synergies to really start kicking in soon, but, at this point, nothing has really changed in terms of [operations].”

A Peacock on the Golf Channel
While all NBC golf telecasts have been dubbed “Golf Channel on NBC,” those on Golf Channel are branded “Golf Channel powered by NBC Sports.” The new on-air look of both is based primarily on Golf Channel’s graphics package and is complete with a newly minted logo that incorporates the Golf Channel insignia and the NBC peacock.

“We’re using their new graphics package, which is really sharp and very well done,” says Roy. “We added some NBC branding with the peacock to a few of the animations and graphics, but it was still predominantly the Golf Channel look.”

In terms of music beds, NBC Sports features its traditional music themes for its weekend coverage, and Golf Channel does the same for its coverage. Roy acknowledges that this arrangement may not be permanent but will continue “at least for the rest of the year.”

Loosening the Programming Reins
In all, Golf Channel and NBC produced nearly 30 hours of live coverage at the Accenture Match Play Championship and plan to supply 16 hours at the Honda Classic. The hard-out times previously in place when the two networks shared coverage have been loosened significantly.

For example, last Saturday’s early session at the Accenture Championship ran long, forcing NBC and Golf Channel to simulcast the tournament, a feat that would have been extremely difficult before the Comcast-NBC Universal merger.

“We were supposed to make the switchover, but the golf was still going on; you couldn’t just say ‘adios.’ So we simulcast,” says Roy. “Typically, when that happens, there is a big mess with the graphics because you’re trying to switch from one network look to another. But this time, because they were both the same, it worked extraordinarily well.”

This wasn’t the only example of how the new NBC Sports Group moniker has simplified operations for both networks. The Accenture Match Play Championship semifinals and finals were scheduled for Sunday, but, when the forecast predicted inclement weather on Sunday, Roy and company approached the PGA Tour about moving the semifinals to Saturday in hopes of avoiding a Monday final round.

“A year ago, the Golf Channel almost certainly would not have allowed that schedule change to happen because it involves massive changes to their programming schedule,” says Roy. “But now that we’re partners and they understood what we were trying to accomplish, they thought it was a terrific idea and went with it. That allowed the PGA Tour to make the change. It was very nice to see, and we got it all in by Sunday.”

A Good Start, More To Come
In all, Golf Channel and NBC will share 10 tournaments on the PGA Tour’s 2011 FedExCup schedule, including the Players Championship and the PGA Tour Playoffs. And, although the integration has gone smoothly thus far, there is still much to be done, including NBC’s capitalizing on Golf Channel’s vast video library (which includes the European and Champions Tour in addition to the PGA) and each network’s dipping into the other’s enormous pool of on-air talent.

“They have unbelievable resources,” says Roy. “Eventually, we’ll be able to really take advantage of all this [on-air talent], but we’re still working all that out right now. That will be very helpful to us at NBC. And, on our side, we’re going to do whatever we can to help boost their viewership and sub levels.”

If the pairing’s opening round is any indicator, Roy’s goal is well on its way to being achieved. The WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship ratings were up 84% over last year on Golf Channel and 71% on NBC, an impressive first tee shot for the NBC Sports Group.

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