Marklazarustca

By STUART LEVINE

Versus is no more.

Peacock has officially made the move in changing the name of its cable entity to NBC Sports Network. New moniker is a significant part of a rebrand that the net hopes will give the channel better footing with sports giant ESPN.

Official change won't take place until Jan. 2, where a new logo will also be go into effect.

"This allows us to completely align the brands that we have, including our regional sports networks," NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus (pictured left) told Variety.

NBC Sports Network's most valuable property is the National Hockey League, which the the Peacock has exclusively. The league, which saw strong ratings for the Stanley Cup playoffs, just recently reupped with NBC on a 10-year deal. Cabler, in conjunction with the broadcast side, also telecasts events associated with horse racing's Triple Crown as well as tennis and other sports.

Move now tells viewers, as well as Madison Avenue, that the Peacock is being aggressive in joining its sports properties together. The alignment also alerts sports leagues, as ESPN has done with ABC, that live events can be televised on any number of platforms. That makes pitches from NBC more attractive.

Lazarus knows comparisons to ESPN are inevitable, but he said it's a bit unfair to say the two cablers should be on an even playing field right now, and hopes auds feel the same way.

"They've had a 30-year head start," he said, "and they have the events they have and we have the events we have."

NBC Sports Network does not yet have sports programming airing on a 24/7 basis. Acquiring programs to round out its schedule is a major objective. The next big property up for grabs is the PGA tour, which will be available for bidding next year.

While Lazarus will be spending countless hours making sure NBC Sports Network can rise in the ranks, the broadcast side will remain the cash cow for the net. "Sunday Night Football" is the Peacock's top-rated primetime show and the net is expecting huge ratings when the NFL season begins Sept. 8 in a Thursday night game between the New Orleans Saints and world champion Green Bay Packers.

Also, Lazarus can look forward toward the Super Bowl. The most-watched program of the year, this year's biggest game airs Feb. 5, followed by the season two premiere of the net's hit reality show "The Voice."

Further taking advantage of the NFL's popularity, the NBC Sports Network will launch studio show "NFL Turning Point" — an analysis of the previous week's games. Show will air at 6 p.m. weekly.

Lazarus said he was never overtly concerned the recently ended lockout would have wiped out the entire season. If however, the work stoppage did stretch into 2012, "Sunday Night Football" analyst Cris Collinsworth said the net had a contingency plan.

"We were going to show 'Heidi,'" he joked, referencing last 65 seconds of a climactic1968 playoff game between the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders that was pre-empted in order to air the kidpic.

 

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