Immediately after the conclusion of Monday’s NHL Winter Classic, NBC will flip the switch on Versus and magically turn it into NBC Sports Network, a rebranding that is the buzz of the sports media world.
But Jon Miller, its president of programming, wants to get one thing straight before you ask, which you will: No, the goal is not to take on ESPN, at least not in the short term.
“I try to disabuse people of that, only because of this: ESPN has an 11,000-day start,’’ he said. “They are the gold standard. They do a tremendous job. I’m a fan, OK?
“I kind of chuckle in the sense people think we’re going to get there right away. We’re not. What we are going to be is a good alternative. We’re going to be a place people go to watch good quality TV.’’
One focus clearly will be the NHL, to which both NBC and Versus – Comcast-owned sister stations – have rights. Also, there will be a tighter branding focus, and less of the outdoors programming for which Versus has been known.
“It’s daunting, it’s exciting, it’s challenging,’’ Miller said. “But I think we’re going to put a really good product on the air that people are going to gravitate toward. It’s going to take some time. I ask people to be patient.’’