NATPE 2012: NBCU's Harbert Hopes Fix is in for NBC TV Stations
Group is building newscasts, adding new syndie fare in a bid to grow ratings
By Paige Albiniak -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/23/2012 4:39:35 PMComplete Coverage: NATPE 2012
Ted Harbert, chairman of NBC Broadcasting at NBCUniversal, speaks frankly when it comes to the owned-and-operated station business of which he's now in charge.
"I don't think It was a fantastic situation when I got there. The company that was in place before us took away investment in those stations," Harbert told panel moderator and NATPE President Rick Feldman on Monday at the annual NATPE conference being held in Miami.
"When I took this job, I did a lot of studying. I realized, boy, did I need some help. I was lucky enough to hire Valari Staab from ABC's KGO San Francisco, which was one of my best hires in my entire career. We took $20 million, hired 130 people, bought helicopters in New York and Los Angeles, and put a lot of trucks on the ground. It's about how much news is on the air, what's in the newscast, what enterprise journalism is going on, what you are out there covering.
"Here's an amusing but tragic story: there was a fire out in Queens and we couldn't get our trucks out to the fire, because we were saving money by having them parked in New Jersey to save parking fees. Really?
"We had to give [our stations] some stuff. Now you can really see it on the air."
Some of the so-called "stuff" that the NBC-owned stations will be getting in the fall are two new syndicated daytime talk shows: NBCU's Steve Harvey, produced by Endemol, and CBS Television Distribution's Jeff Probst.
"When it first came down the path, we thought we were going to be the Katie Couric guys. The previous management had decided they didn't like the daytime business very much. Although there were very talented people in those positions, they were told âdon't really do anything. Put on repeats, don't lose any money.' But they didn't make any money either.
"Now our feeling is âLet's go get out there,' but we're going to do it reasonably," said Harbert. "We looked very carefully at the economics of the Katie Couric deal - at what was in it for her, what was in it for us." NBCUniversal ended up passing on doing a talk show with Katie Couric.
"Every station needs a point of distinction, and we think Steve Harvey will be that for us. Ellen does a fantastic job of doing an entertainment talk show, Dr. Phil does a fantastic job of telling you how to fix your life. We've got a guy who can do both. It's going to become a substantive advice show. That appealed to me in a great way.
"Along those lines, Jeff Probst came into my office and did a great job. This guy can interview people, talk to them, and he really cares. Our competitors are all doing the same things. So you ask the boss for some money, do the best you can, and promote the hell out of it."
Promotion for shows like Steve Harvey, Jeff Probst and in primetime, the upcoming Smash and Fashion Star, across Comcast NBCUniversal's sprawling assets holds the key to the company's future success, says Harbert.
"Boy, do we not have a circulation base right now. Even if you put on a good show -- and Prime Suspect wasn't such a bad show that it deserved a 1.0 rating -- we have an issue with getting the word out.
"We have the ability through what we call âProject Symphony' to go spread the word, so we're getting it on that barker on E!, running promos on Bravo, USA and all over the Comcast systems.
"We are going to go crazy on Smash - starting right now, we'll go heavy until the premiere. There was a movie that came out earlier this year from NBCU called Hop. The company went wild, and we made $10 million more that weekend than we otherwise would have. We can really good the word out and we have to. The structure of our schedule is such that it's not allowing us [on its own] to get shows launched properly."
Besides revamping NBC's struggling primetime schedule, Harbert -- who previously oversaw Comcast's E! Entertainment, Style and G4 Networks - is looking for new ways to produce shows.
"What I really care about is the innovative ideas like [Lionsgate's Jon] Feltheimer's idea with the Charlie Sheen show [that will be tested on FX]," he said. "We don't need to stay in the exact same model of every drama is $3.3 million and every comedy is $2.2 million. We have to come up with way to cut these costs and use different models."
One way to do that is to scour foreign markets for creative new series and then re-format them for the U.S. and other territories, something with which Harbert's co-panelist Jeff Shell, president of NBCUniversal International, has been tasked.
"Shows aren't just going to come from the U.S. anymore," said Shell. "As programming gets more local in each territory, a great idea may emerge. When we find shows or formats that travel, we'll go talk to [NBCUniversal Entertainment Chairman] Bob [Greenblatt] and Ted and see if we can produce it for the U.S. audience."
One major problem taking place at NBC Universal has been and always will be the proper marketing of their shows on the airwaves and they have consistently failed at this process. They need to do a uch better job in emphasizing the importance of these shows and to bring in just enough lure into a show that will get the audience to watch and talk about said shows. Katie Couris is a hack and she and Zuckerboy will destroy ABC daytime and Probst's show hasn't even cleared in Chicago as of this writing. More marketing is the key.
Jed - 1/23/2012 8:33:21 PM EST
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