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Dick Ebersol talks Amazon's NFL broadcast, sports advertising, NBC programming

Former Head of NBC Sports and Saturday Night Live Co-Creator Dick Ebersol joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss Amazon's NFL broadcast, sports advertising, the future of streaming, and his new book: "From Saturday Night to Sunday Night".

Video Transcript

DAVE BRIGGS: The NFL. "Sunday Night Football" is back and delivered a massive audience in week 1. More than 25 million people watched, the number one show on TV. Also this week, we get a glimpse at the first ever streaming regular season game on Amazon.

To talk about all of that, we're joined by a TV legend. Dick Ebersol is the creator of "Sunday Night Football," co-creator of "Saturday Night Live." He is out with his new memoir. It's called "From Saturday Tonight to Sunday Night." Dick, it's great to have you here. Really appreciate the time. What are your expectations for streaming NFL on a Thursday night? If it were an Ebersol production, what would you like to see from it?

DICK EBERSOL: That's a heck of a question. I just know that I want football to be on in time periods that are accessible for people everywhere. And the more, the merrier. And in this particular case, this opening week of the season has been pretty glorious from my vantage point.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And Dick, Rachelle here. What do you think are going to be the keys to success for Amazon with this-- going forward with the NFL?

DICK EBERSOL: Well, I think first of all, they have the single most important ingredient. They have the best producer of professional football that has ever walked the face of the Earth. I know that because he was the producer I chose to originally produce "Sunday Night Football." And he's produced "Sunday Night Football" since it started, just up to these last two weeks at Amazon. And that was a deal that was worked out because NBC and Amazon had been cooperating on various things involving coverage of games. And in this particular case, they did a loan-out of Fred Gaudelli to Amazon. And Amazon is in great hands with Fred.

SEANA SMITH: What about, Dick, just this overall shift that we're starting to see here? More sports are now being live streamed. What does this really tell us about the future of cable? Because a lot of people have been saying that cable is holding on because of sports.

DICK EBERSOL: Well, I think there's a lot to be said for that being accurate. I mean, the most audiences-- most audiences, not the most, most audiences in cable, most of the big audiences are pro football. And it just gets bigger year after year after year. And that's one of the things that we'll see more and more as time goes on in this battle between streaming over the air and so forth. Whoever has football will have an enormous advantage, no ifs, ands, or buts.

DAVE BRIGGS: Former Disney CEO Bob Iger said linear TV and satellite is marching towards a great precipice, and it will be pushed off. Do you see the death of linear TV right around the corner? And do you think they can do things to innovate, such as incorporating gambling?

DICK EBERSOL: Well, I think, first of all, the broadcast networks have to find a way beyond just advertising to carry these enormous costs that come with NFL football carriage rights. There's no ifs, ands, or buts. I'm going to ride you with that phrase. You've got to have big bucks to hold on to these events. Nothing is more pricey than pro football and primetime than perhaps the Olympic Games. That's it. And those that have those rights are going to be the dominant face and force in television going forward, no matter what medium they're going forward in.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And Dick, we've seen a lot of these streaming companies really worrying about ad spend. At first, it was content is king. Now it's sort of balancing that with ad spend. Not so the case with the Super Bowl, though. Everyone seems to be ready for that appointment TV. How do you see the ad space developing?

DICK EBERSOL: It's whatever the market will bear. That's the way I look at it. In this particular case, as long as sponsors want to reach the largest possible audience, which usually comes with big-time sports, especially NFL football, these various carriers are going to have to find a way to convince the big sponsors to continue to sponsor on over the air television.

SEANA SMITH: Dick, from your success, obviously, at NBC Sports, home of the Olympics for such an extended period of time, we've seen the viewership numbers decline, especially with the most recent Olympics. I guess, what do you attribute that to? And how do we turn this around and get Americans, or, really, get the world, more interested in the Olympics once again?

DICK EBERSOL: Well, first of all, the last two Olympics have been in Asia, which creates unfavorable time periods for carriage of those events. I think when you see the games back in a place like LA in four or five years, the ratings will be restored. And that's pretty much been the case forever and ever. If you've got a way to put these events on live at a time when people are there to watch it, people don't really want to watch something at a time when they're not there.

DAVE BRIGGS: You, Dick, were always a storyteller, and that is clear reading this book. There's a lot of great stories about Michael Phelps or Michael Jordan or Bill Clinton or Billy Crystal. Is there enough storytelling in television today? And if you had a critique of the broadcast networks, which are less relevant, except for NFL football, what would that be?

DICK EBERSOL: Well, for starters, I believe that NBC in particular does a fabulous job of storytelling, and that's been true for years and years. The networks that are ill served are the ones that don't storytell. Storytelling is something that makes it easier for the audience, particularly the female side of the audience, which doesn't watch sports in the numbers that men do. But during the Olympics-- excuse me-- you tell these stories, you tell them well, they're going to want to see how the competition turns out. They've got a rooting interest. You've given them one by telling the life story of some of these kids in sports.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And I want to ask you because, obviously, "Saturday Night Live," a very different product from what we see with "Sunday Night Football," what are some of those keys to success that allow you to translate those skills no matter what you're doing when it comes to media?

DICK EBERSOL: Talented people. I mean, "Saturday Night Live" is what it is because of what Lorne Michaels brings to it year after year after year. It's the same formula that's existed since we first put the show on the air. And he's that one consistent magical thing that's been there all along, except for a bunch of years that he took off, and I came back for a short while. But it's his magic as a comedic mind that is what keeps that show at the top of the heap year after year.

DAVE BRIGGS: Dick, "From Saturday Night to Sunday Night," what do you want people to learn when they read the book? What do you want them to take away?

DICK EBERSOL: I want them to take away some of the mystery. I want them to understand, as we, who've been lucky enough to work in that field for decade after decade after decade, I want to take away some of the mystery and let them in on it. And also, for those that are young and looking for a sense of how they might get the business, that's in the book, and how you have to be steadfast in wanting to be a part of it.

You can't just keep sending them letters and stuff. You've got to find a way to show up at these events, get hired, as I did, many times as a gofer-- go for coffee, go for cigarettes, go for something. Put yourself there. You're not going to ever get in the business if you don't find a way to put yourself somewhere near it yourself.