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Can NBC Crush ESPN?

Stocks in this article: DIS CMCSA CBS CMLS

Comcast cable customers have access to the WatchESPN app. That extends ESPN's mobile reach to 40 million, according to data released on the above-cited call. Comcast must play a balancing act between giving its subscribers what they want (access to properties such as ESPN across devices) and promoting their own competitive offerings.

Content. That's what it comes down to. NBC Sports airs plenty of solid programming, ranging from the National Football League to PGA Golf to the current cornerstones of the NBC Sports Network, the National Hockey League and the Tour de France. Both networks will cover the Summer Olympics, with sister stations, MSNBC and CNBC, likely picking up some events, just as CNBC did during this past season's NHL playoffs.

In terms of content, however, ESPN still dominates. Not only does it broadcast all major sports -- on a much more consistent and frequent basis than NBC -- it owns the image of the go-to network for sports programming. The only way NBC, and the NBC Sports Network in particular, can chip away at this is to make a stand for the content that allows ESPN to build the brand -- that means major events and the ongoing coverage that brings eyeballs night after night, such as Major League Baseball and NBA broadcasts.

In terms of penetration, NBC Sports Network is actually not all that far behind ESPN. According to Comcast and Disney's most recent annual reports, ESPN counts about 99 million subscribers, while NBC Sports Network boasts 76 million. By comparison, ESPN 2 reaches 99 million subscribers, ESPN News (73 million), CNBC (97 million), MSNBC (95 million) and Comcast's Golf Channel (85 million).

To most effectively compete for content, NBC Sports Network needs to sport a larger subscriber number. At the same time, it can always leverage its ability to run programming on NBC as well as its other powerful cable networks.

Endpoint: As I continue to argue, premium content is what makes media stocks strong buys. I love Disney as well as Comcast. Sports remain the end-all and be-all of premium content. If Comcast can chip away at ESPN and similar media stalwarts, it might just replace Disney as the sports and entertainment leader of the new century.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

At the time of publication, the author did not hold positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this article.
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