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Lazarus Takes Cable Point at NBC Sports

2/07/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Mark Lazarus is going to be a man on the
move over the next couple of months, evaluating key
components of sports programming at the new-look,
Comcast-controlled NBC Universal.

As part of the restructuring
of the NBC Sports
Group under Comcast’ s
joint venture with NBCU,
the industry veteran and
former Turner Entertainment
Group topper was
named president of NBC
Sports Cable Group with
oversight for Golf Channel,
Versus and the 11
Comcast regional sports
networks. He’ll be based
at 30 Rockefeller Center in
New York, reporting to chairman Dick Ebersol.

The new structure, forged by Ebersol, elevates Jon Litner,
who had been serving as Comcast Sports Group president,
to president of Versus and SportsNet, comprising the
aforementioned RSNs.

Litner succeeds Jamie Davis in heading the national
cable service. Mike McCarley, who worked closely with
Ebersol as senior vice president, strategic marketing, promotion
and communications, NBC Sports, was named
president of Golf Channel.

NBC DUO RISES

The reorganization also places more programming and
productions responsibilities in the hands of long-time
NBC Sports executives Jon Miller and Sam Flood.

Lazarus, brought on board in mid-December from Atlanta-
based Career Sports & Entertainment, spent part
of last week in Orlando with McCarley at Golf Channel’s
headquarters.

That won’t be the last stop on his itinerary.

“We have an interesting, diverse portfolio of properties
in various cities,” he said. Lazarus said he has
been in phone contact with local RSN leaders and met
with CSN Philadelphia senior vice president and general
manager Brian Monihan and SNY president Steve
Raab. “But I want to get on the road, and we’ll be mapping
those plans out over the next 30 to 45 days.

“Jon Litner and his team have done a great job over the
last five years,” Lazarus added, noting Comcast secured
the rights to Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros and
the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets,
and an equity position in a new regional launching in
2012. “The RSN business is
not static, it’s a growth opportunity,”
he said

He called Versus “an important
property” that “has
done some things well”
while “others need to be improved
upon.”

Davis led Versus to ratings,
distribution and financial
gains since taking
over the service in September
2008 and is currently assessing
other roles within
Comcast.

He wasn’t the only Versus executive not to make the
transition. Executive producer Leon Schweir, Mike Baker,
the coordinating producer for National Hockey League
games; and Neal Scarborough, the network’s vice president
of digital media, are not part of the new game plan
for Versus.

Michael Bass, the former producer of NBC’s Today
and CBS’s The Early Show, is now heading studio production.
Marc Fein, the Versus executive vice president
of programming, production and business operations,
stays on.

Lazarus said the moves were part of an evaluation
mindful of best practices and “making us better and more
attractive with our league partners.”

To that end, the exclusive window for Versus, the NHL’s
current national cable carrier, to negotiate with the circuit
has just closed, while NBC’s has opened. Those contracts
expire at season’s end.

NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer is now charged with
leading negotiations for all NBC Sports Group properties.

“Hockey has been an important sport for Versus,” Lazarus
said. “We want to be involved [with] all of the major
leagues where it makes sense.” Talks continue with the
NHL, he said.

Relative to the 2012 Summer Olympics, it sounds like
Versus will be in the Games in London. “Just as Dick
[Ebersol] has determined
what NBC and the other
networks have televised,
it makes sense for Versus
to be part of that group,”
Lazarus said.

Asked if Notre Dame football,
whose home games
have been televised by NBC
since 1991, might be encored
and/or supported on Versus,
Lazarus replied: “Our goal
is to create value overall for
NBC Sports Group and our
partners. It’s not just taking
one property and pushing it
to another.”

He also said it was premature
to discuss whether a
SportsCenter-type national
news show could find its way
onto the NBC Sports Group
lineup.

“It’s way too early to mention
news. We’ll speak with Jon Litner, and measure our
resources and see what opportunities there are throughout
NBCU,” he said.

‘TELLING GREAT STORIES’

In the meantime, the NBC Sports Group wants to make sure
its properties deliver the right stuff . “We want Golf to be
the destination for viewers/fans through [the] network and
NBC,” Lazarus said. Golf has teed off well in 2011, with its
best Nielsen performance in its 16-year history, driven by
gains in tournament, original series and instructional fare.

Lazarus also wants the RSNs to be the place for news
and games for fans of those clubs, both on-air and online,
where SportsNet has invested in bringing in area sportswriters
to its digital teams.

Lazarus will work closely with NBC Sports Group Digital
general manager Kevin Monaghan to “help me think that
through. We want digital to be a complement to what we
do on air,” he said, pointing to ProFootballTalk.com as a
flanker to NBC’s Sunday Night Football telecast. “We think
we can bring more of those sensibilities.”

Lazarus said his directive from Ebersol is not about efficiencies, but about “making sure that sports fans are receiving
the best information, that we’re telling great stories
and presenting the best productions across a variety of
platforms.”

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