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NBC's Football Balancing Act: Obama on NBC, Pre-Game on Cable

But Will G4, Versus, USA and SyFy -- Plus an Additional Special on Saturday Night Broadcast -- Deliver Audiences Marketers Want?

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NBC Universal has devised a semi-elegant solution to the potential conflict between showing NFL kickoff pre-game activities -- which viewers and advertisers want -- and broadcasting the presidential speech that is its mandate as a broadcaster serving the public interest.

NBC Sports said Wednesday that it would bump pre-game coverage tomorrow of the first contest of the NFL season, featuring the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers, to four of the parent company's cable outlets: G4, Versus, USA and SyFy. The NBC broadcast network will televise a speech about jobs slated to be delivered at 7 p.m. by President Barack Obama. NBC will then join coverage of the pre-game festivities once its coverage of the presidential speech ends. The speech is not expected to interfere with NBC's broadcast of the game itself.

NBCU may be working creatively to make sure die-hard fans get all the football they want -- the company even extended its pre-game coverage to 90 minutes, and added a special football-themed hour for this coming Saturday night -- but it's likely also trying to please advertisers. Big football sponsors often buy packages of ad inventory across a football-game broadcast. Taking some inventory in a pre-game can often result in a better price for ad time sold in the game itself. But having the pre-game coverage pre-empted on NBC might limit the exposure for some of the marketing that accompanies it.

The cable solution -- four different channels -- would presumably give advertisers the audience they were guaranteed. An NBC Sports Group spokesman declined to comment on whether the same ad load would accompany the pre-game broadcast across all four channels. But a package of advertising across four channels combined with a Saturday -night NBC special might help marketers attain their audience-impression goals.

Already, one NBC affiliate has opted not to televise the speech and instead stick with coverage of the game and the festivities leading up to it. According to the online edition of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, WTMJ in Milwaukee has opted not to televise the Presidential speech, moving NBC's coverage of that event to a digital-cable channel it operates for area viewers.

EA Sports is the presenting sponsor of the pre-game kickoff Thursday.

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