After Ted Leonsis, whose Monumental Sports & Entertainment owns the Washington Wizards, Capitals and Mystics, purchased NBC Sports Washington, the regional sports network that broadcasts Wizards and Capitals games, it was natural to wonder how the acquisition would affect the viewer experience. The short answer, at least for this season: not much.
Media industry veteran Friday Abernethy, who on Thursday was named the general manager of NBC Sports Washington, said the look and feel of game broadcasts and other programming on the network — as well as the ways in which fans can access that content — will be largely the same as it was before the August deal was announced, though enhancements, which will include a new digital streaming platform, are in the works.
“I think in the short term we’re really excited about reimagining our programming slate outside of the live games,” Abernethy, who has nearly three decades of experience in the industry, with a focus on distribution and content licensing, said in a video interview. “I think by us having full ownership of it, it allows us to [ask], ‘How can we go deeper with the teams and bring more of that personal element to the fans?’”
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Abernethy mentioned Meghan McPeak’s addition as a sideline reporter for Wizards games as one of the few changes made to the Capitals and Wizards broadcasts this season, and she said new team-focused programming is expected to debut by next season.
After the acquisition, which was completed last month, Zach Leonsis, Monumental’s president of media and new enterprises and Ted’s son, said Monumental was interested in exploring a direct-to-consumer streaming option for Capitals and Wizards games that would give fans access to the broadcasts without requiring a cable subscription. According to a release, Monumental has hired digital platform ViewLift to “design, integrate, develop and launch a robust digital experience for Mid-Atlantic sports fans across all major streaming devices.” While Abernethy said the network is focused on supporting its traditional linear TV experience for the time being, it will have a potential model to follow when it decides to go the digital route.
This week, Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer launched “ClipperVision,” a direct-to-consumer streaming platform with six live viewing options, including an augmented reality stream with shot probability graphics and statistics, live commentary from former players and Korean- and Spanish-language broadcasts. The service, which does not require a cable subscription, costs $199.99 for 74 games this season and includes access to a library of past games and highlights.
Abernethy, who will be tasked with overseeing day-to-day operations of NBC Sports Washington while helping lead its integration into Monumental’s existing platform, said she will be watching the response to ClipperVision “really closely.” She also will be keeping an eye on Bally Sports, which launched a stand-alone subscription streaming service in September, and New England Sports Network (NESN), which became the first regional sports network to live stream NHL games in 4K High Dynamic Range this season.
“I think it’s sort of the tip of the iceberg in terms of where sports rights can go,” said Abernethy, who spent seven years in executive-level positions at Univision and fills the role at NBCSW previously held by Jackie Bradford, who remains the president and general manager of NBC 4 and Telemundo. “. . . I think alternate feeds are super interesting. There could be a betting feed. There could be multiple languages. Those are all things that we’re exploring.”
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Monumental, which acquired a one-third stake in NBC Sports Washington from Comcast in 2016 and also owns the NBA G League’s Capital City Go-Go and the NBA 2K League’s Wizards District Gaming, has experimented with gambling-focused alternate TV broadcasts before.
In addition to its Capitals and Wizards coverage, NBC Sports Washington airs extensive pregame and postgame coverage of the Washington Commanders, as well as a daily Commanders-focused, half-hour show hosted by Julie Donaldson, the team’s senior vice president of media and content. Abernethy said the network hasn’t made any decisions about how it will cover the Commanders or any of the other local sports teams not owned by Monumental beyond this season.
“We’ll be exploring all of the opportunities that we have in the local market,” she said.
Monumental also announced that D.C.-based agency HZ will support its rebranding effort, and Diversified, a technology solutions provider, will oversee the development of a new production facility near Capital One Arena. Construction is expected to be completed by next season.
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