NBC Keeps Its Partners Close With Playmaker

The Peacock’s new division will help clients stream their own big events

NBC Sports has learned a few things about live-streaming large-scale events. Ever since it streamed its first Olympic matchup — the men’s gold-medal ice-hockey game at the 2006 Torino Olympics — it has taken on the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup Final, the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and, of course, many additional Olympic games. Now it’s turning that knowledge into a new business line with the launch of Playmaker Media.

logo_colorA division of NBC Sports, Playmaker is intended to help clients live-stream their own massive events. Its purview is not limited to sports, although that’s where it will do the most work. After all, its biggest client is NBC Sports. Its first outside client is the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has hired Playmaker to provide the live-video-streaming support for its soon-to-launch Olympic Channel.

For anything Playmaker can’t deliver, a network of partners is ready to go: Akamai for content delivery, iStreamPlanet for encoding, Microsoft for cloud services, Comcast Wholesale’s thePlatform for video management, and Adobe for authentication. NBC isn’t adding to staff for the venture but will hire people as needed.

For NBC Sports, launching Playmaker isn’t just a new business venture; it’s a smart strategy.

“We want to keep our partners close to us,” explains Rick Cordella, SVP/GM, NBC Sports Digital. “It’s a different world in 2016 than it was in 2012 or even a couple years ago. The leagues themselves have these visual businesses, and they’re executed on live video, maybe outside the window of TV. What we want to do is both be a partner on the TV side, linear side but also be a digital partner and bring this asset to bear in those sorts of negotiations.”

Being a partner for the IOC means taking care of its streaming needs so that it works with NBC and not as a competitor. “The last thing we want to see is someone bid on other Olympic rights outside of the 17 days,” Cordella says. “Keeping them close to us, being a good partner of ours and partner of theirs makes good business sense overall.”

While keeping partners close is essential for Playmaker, so is predicting where the live-streaming business will go. As producers of international events form their own video-streaming strategies, NBC Sports wants to be there to guide them. “We see that as a pretty big business opportunity,” Cordella says.

Several observers have noted Playmaker’s similarity to MLB Advanced Media and predicted competition with BAM Tech, the possible MLBAM spinoff with an estimated valuation of around $3 billion. Although MLBAM has made some impressive partnerships, Cordella says he isn’t worried and plays down the comparison.

“[MLBAM] does a great job, no question about it,” he points out. “They’ve been at it for a fairly long time, but we feel like, in some cases, we may have an advantage over them — particularly around the relationships that we have existing and around the rights we already have in our portfolio. So I wouldn’t say we’re going to go head-to-head against BAM. I know that’s been written about us in a few different publications, but we think we can carve out our own unique niche.”

The 2016 Rio Olympics won’t be the only event heating up the summer. With an especially interesting presidential race headed to the home stretch, Playmaker will do a fair amount of work for NBC News covering the Democratic and Republican Conventions, as well as Election Night. Live coverage of events is Playmaker’s sweet spot, Cordella notes, and, while that usually means sports, NBC will put it to use wherever it sees a good fit.

As streaming becomes more critical to sports, and leagues want to do more with their properties than just sell distribution rights, NBC Sports sees Playmaker as an idea whose time has come. The industry seems to agree.

“it’s amazing what one press release can do and how much buzz we’ve heard already around this from different partners of ours,” Cordella says. “We’re excited to continue to evolve the technology, and you’ll see Playmaker on display at the Rio Olympics.”

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