Comcast's Versus network will stay in Philadelphia

Jon Litner became a rising star in Comcast executive ranks by launching several sports networks around the country.
Jon Litner became a rising star in Comcast executive ranks by launching several sports networks around the country.
Posted: February 03, 2011

Comcast Corp.'s 24-hour sports network, Versus, will fall under the direct management of Jon Litner, a former ABC Sports executive who has run Comcast's regional sports networks, and will stay in Philadelphia.

Some employees had been concerned that Versus - or even the regional sports networks - might relocate to New York after control of their businesses was taken over by entertainment and news giant NBC Universal Inc. because of the company's joint venture with Comcast.

In an announcement Wednesday naming its top executives, NBC Sports said Litner would be president of Versus and SportsNet and would be based here.

Dick Ebersol, the longtime head of NBC Sports, said in an interview Wednesday that he considered the Comcast regional sports networks now part of NBC Universal's "crown jewels." He said he expected to bolster Versus by acquiring the rights to more sports for it, though he declined to say which sports.

Ebersol also indicated that the company would change the Versus name to some variation reflecting the NBC brand, but he said the change was months away.

Putting industry speculation to rest, he said, "There is no intent or interest on our part . . . to get into a battle with ESPN. ESPN has a 30-year head start, and, more important than that, they have [per-subscriber] fees that are the envy of the world."

There are many opportunities to "cross-promote" sports events on NBC outlets to boost audience, Ebersol said. The Comcast-NBC Universal joint venture, which closed last week, converts NBC Sports from "essentially a weekend operation to a 24/7 operation" with Versus and the Golf Channel.

Later this month, he said, NBC will promote weekend golf coverage on the NBC network as "Golf Channel on NBC," and then promote the sport on the cable channel as "Golf Channel Powered by NBC Sports."

Though Comcast is headquartered in Philadelphia, the NBC Universal programming businesses will be operated out of the historic NBC headquarters in New York and Hollywood.

Comcast executive Steve Burke has taken an office at NBC headquarters and plans to travel often to Hollywood while retaining his Philadelphia home and residency.

As Litner launched several new sports networks around the country, he was considered a rising star in the Comcast executive ranks.

At Versus, he will replace president Jamie Davis, who will step down "as he assesses potential roles within the Comcast family," according to a statement.

Ebersol's two top lieutenants at the now-expanded NBC Sports will be Ken Schanzer, in charge of broadcast-TV sports, and Mark Lazarus, in charge of cable-related sports. Litner will report to Lazarus, who reports to Ebersol.

Among other changes announced Wednesday, Mike McCarley was named president of the Florida-based Golf Channel. Jon Miller becomes president of programming for NBC Sports and Versus, based in New York.

Sam Flood was promoted to executive producer of NBC Sports and Versus. Flood produces NBC's National Hockey League coverage and Football Night in America; he will remain in New York. Gary Zenkel remains president of NBC Olympics.


Contact staff writer Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.

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