By Ronald Grover
Feb 5 (Reuters) - One big winner at the Sochi Winter Olympics that starts this week may end up being the NBC Sports Network cable channel.
The channel will telecast more than 230 hours of live events from Russia, including such big draws as women’s figure skating and the U.S.-Russia ice hockey game, in a bid to help boost the channel’s ratings.
Its first broadcast will be Team USA’s game against Finland in women’s hockey, which will start Feb. 8 at 3 a.m. EST (0800 GMT) because of the nine-hour difference between Sochi and the U.S. East Coast, NBC said.
The Comcast Corp-owned network, which last year rebranded itself NBCSN, added 5 million more households in the month before the Olympics, bringing to 85 million the homes whose cable or satellite operators carry the channel, according to NBC.
“This could be a turning point for the network,” said Derek Baine, research director for industry consult SNL Kagan.
SNL Kagan estimates that the added homes will allow it to increase advertising sales and the license fees that cable and satellite operators pay to carry it. In 2014, SNL Kagan projects that NBCSN will generate cash flow of $44.6 million. Last year, it had negative cash flow of $29.2 million, according to SNL Kagan.
NBCSN’s lineup also includes NASCAR races, National Hockey League games and college football and basketball games. In Sochi, it will carry 11 sports, including live gold medal coverage of bobsled, speed skating and ski jumping, NBC said. Live sports will mostly be seen from 3 a.m. EST and continue for 12 hours. Walt Disney Co’s sports channel ESPN is the industry leader in cable TV sports, reaching 98 million homes with its ESPN and ESPN 2 networks.