NBC Finally Opens It’s Wallet

I read the news today, oh boy

This is the first year in quite some time that we’re being realistic. We’re being realistic about how much we need to spend. We’re being realistic about what our margin should be, or what our amount of loss should be. We’re being realistic about what it actually takes.

That’s a quote from Jeff Gaspin, who has been handed the job of re-building NBC’s decimated prime-time schedule. Here’s another:

You can only manage through cost cuts for a short period of time. And we’ve been doing it for five years.

NBC’s entertainment division once made as much as $800 million in a year. Analysts suspect that has turned into a loss of about $300 million this season and last.

Of course, some of that has to do with the Great Recession, and the tidal wave that is washing over mass media. Advertising rates are down for everyone, and network TV doesn’t draw the same share of audience that it once did.

But as I mentioned in a post earlier this year, the Jay Leno prime-time experiment was a cynical ploy to reduce costs for programming. It was the equivalent of what we’ve seen consolidated radio companies do with syndicated shows in local markets, never designed to improve the product, only to cut costs.

Mr. Gaspin has already produced some early glimmers of hope: The show “Parenthood,” which replaced the Leno Show in prime-time, is up over 40% in the 18-49 audience. And he has vowed to change the way NBC buys programs and ideas. The network has relied heavily over the past few years on buying from their own studios, hoping to cash in on selling shows in syndication and/or internationally.

The problem has been, their shows suck.

Our goal right now is to find those shows that are the tent poles of your schedule. I don’t care where they come from I don’t care whether we own them or not.” *

Let’s hope consolidated radio makes a similar rational decision, to care about the product people hear in every market, to learn to accept lower margins, and to begin to rebuild trust between consumer and station.

There’s no business like show business, and all of us who care about content should be rooting for NBC to find its way this Fall.



*Interview in the NY TIMES