Our Own Live Stream: NBCUniversal Acquires Rights to FIS World Cup Events

Gabby NaranjaNovember 18, 2015
Sophie Caldwell (USA) shows her cornering skills in Val Mustair (SUI). (photo: Fischer/Nordic Focus)
This winter, NBCUniversal viewers will have the opportunity to watch skiers like U.S. Nordic Ski Team member Sophie Caldwell compete live, with the company’s recent acquisition of rights to FIS World Cup events. (Photo: Fischer/Nordic Focus)

Being able to watch cross-country or nordic-combined competitions live from the comfort of your own home in any Scandinavian country is, well, normal. What if the same could be said of the U.S.?

A long-standing dream for many American nordic fans is becoming a reality with NBCUniversal’s recent acquisition of rights to almost all of the International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup events.

Before NBCUniversal acquired the rights to broadcast and stream World Cup events, a separate company, Universal Sports Network owned them.

“Universal Sports had those rights for years, but Universal [Sports] never really exercised them, other than carrying coverage each year of the Tour de Ski,” explained Tom Kelly, vice president of communications for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) during a phone interview on Tuesday.

However, after NBCUniversal took over and ceased the operation of Universal Sports Network two days ago, NBCUniversal gained the company’s assets, including the right to broadcast World Cup events. 

“The big news for cross-country is the fact that cross-country ski racing from the World Cup — the entire World Cup — will be available in America and it never has been before,” Kelly said.

“The big news for cross-country is the fact that cross-country ski racing from the World Cup — the entire World Cup — will be available in America and it never has been before.” — USSA Vice President of Communications Tom Kelly, on NBCUniversal’s upcoming live-stream schedule for the 2015/2016 race season

Along with cross-country, most every nordic-combined event is scheduled to be streamed live, except for those in Austria. “The Austrian events are in a different rights package, so those are missing right now from the nordic-combined schedule. Everything is included for the cross country World Cup Tour this year,” Kelly said.

Bryan Fletcher (U.S. Nordic Combined) jumping to ninth on Day 2 of the Nordic Combined World Cup Triple in Seefeld, Austria. Fletcher improved to sixth in the 10 k. (Photo: Fast Big Dog)
Bryan Fletcher (U.S. Nordic Combined) at the Nordic Combined World Cup Triple last January in Seefeld, Austria. As it stands, the 2016 Seefeld Triple is the only Nordic Combined World Cup that NBCUniversal does not have rights to stream this season. (Photo: FBD)

So how might skiers and avid fans alike access the races? According to Kelly, NBCUniversal is “planning on carrying those events through live streaming on their streaming platform, which is called NBC Sports Live Extra. You can download the app from any of the app stores, whether you have an Android or an iPhone. Or you can simply access it on the web.”

Unfortunately for Canadians, which follow their own set of broadcast regulations, our northern friends won’t be able to access this.

In addition to streaming of all World Cup events online, NBCUniversal plans to show the Tour de Ski live on one of its television broadcasting channels, Universal HD.

“One is a streaming platform, one is a broadcast platform. If you want to watch [the Tour de Ski] in Universal HD, you’d have to call your cable or satellite provider and you’d have to find out: Do I get that channel, if I don’t get that channel how do I get it, what do I pay, and so forth,” Kelly said. “With the streaming — and everything will be streamed live — you can watch that content live, but you can also watch it on demand later.”

How to Watch:

– Access NBC Sports Live Extra from your desktop, tablet or mobile phone

– If using a tablet or handheld device, download the NBC Sports Live Extra app via iTunes (free download, subscription fees may apply)

– Stay tuned for subscription details; you may need to subscribe to NBC’s primary sports channel, NBCSN. Many cable and satellite packages already include NBCSN or Universal HD. Check with your provider.

– Save this schedule. All of the FIS Cross Country World Cups and all but three competitions on the FIS Nordic Combined World Cup 2015/2016 schedule will be streamed. Canadian World Cups, while not included on the current schedule, will also be shown.

– Tune in: Universal HD plans to televise the Tour de Ski daily.

Yes, the 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. Eastern times on the live-streaming schedule were a little daunting at first.

“You don’t have to get up at 4 in the morning to watch [races]; you can get up during the day to watch and just pick whatever time you want,” Kelly explained. “That’s the beauty of the digital platform.”

Though the news may seem ethereal, some major details are still being sorted out. “We anticipate that in order to watch the streaming, you will need to be an authenticated subscriber to NBC through a cable network or through a satellite provider,” Kelly said. “We don’t know yet how [NBCUniversal] will manage the authentication on this. What we suspect is that you will need to be a subscriber to NBCSN [a division of NBCUniversal], which is their primary sports channel.”  

In other words, watching live streaming of World Cup events may come at a cost of upgrading or paying extra for the sports channel.

However, Kelly believes that this won’t be an issue for most Americans wanting to watch live World Cup events. 

“If you’ve got a decent cable package or satellite package, you’re probably going to find that you already have [NBCSN and Universal HD],” he said. The price to subscribe to NBCSN or Universal HD, if not already included your package, depends largely on your cable/satellite provider.

“For us, the big thing here is two-fold,” he added. “Number one, it’s the fact that everything will be streamed live, and number two, the fact that the potential audience size for the broadcast events of the Tour de Ski, will be dramatically larger than it has been in the past.”

With Universal HD reaching close to 10 times the number of U.S. homes reached during the Universal Sports Network era, according to Kelly, the potential of spreading awareness about nordic skiing with just one race series is huge.

FIS world cup cross-country, individual sprint, Drammen (NOR)
A long-standing dream for many American nordic fans may come true with NBCUniversal’s recent acquisition of rights to stream almost all FIS World Cup events.

Of course, that all depends on number of subscribers and viewership.

One of our initiatives is to get people to be aware that [NBC Sports Live Extra and Universal HD] exists and get them to participate and watch it,” he said. “NBC will monitor how many people are actually watching these events [and] that will undoubtably influence their future decisions. Our objective is to get people to watch and get people engaged in cross-country ski racing in America.”

As for USSA’s role in all this, it’s not much different than the rest of us. “We’re an interested party … We’re essentially lobbying them and encouraging them and at the same time, also helping to spread the word on it,” Kelly said.

Beyond the issue of subscription, English commentary is also potentially in the works. “Keeping in mind that this is not our broadcast, we are certainly going to encourage them to have English-language commentary on this [and] we are giving them suggestions as to ways to accomplish that,” Kelly said. “But ultimately it will be NBC[Universal]’s decision.”

View NBCUniversal’s schedule here.

Gabby Naranja

Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.

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