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Nightly News Boss Sounds Off

12/02/2005 07:00:00 PM Eastern

After three months as acting president of NBC News, veteran producer Steve Capus got the official nod last week to head up the top-rated network news division and MSNBC. But with speculation that star Katie Couric might jump to the competition, and ABC and CBS retooling their evening news, Capus is trying to march forward and keep tabs on his rivals. He talked to B&C’s Allison Romano about the future of NBC News on TV and online.

Good Morning America is nipping at Today, and both ABC and CBS are revamping their evening news. How much are you looking over your shoulder?

NBC is in a different position from the other networks. We are operating from a leadership position. We have to be very careful, but we have to lead and operate from a position of strength. The shows are doing beautifully right now.

The industry is buzzing over Katie Couric’s future. What are the chances she will stay at NBC?

We’re not there yet, and we’ll see what happens. Katie is part of a great team at Today. A month ago, people were predicting Today couldn’t survive November sweeps and Desperate Housewives would help propel GMA. The opposite has happened. Today is stronger than it’s been in a long time, and there are a lot of people responsible for that: Katie, Matt, Al and Ann and all the people behind the scenes. That is where our focus is and not on the sideshow.

While the entertainment divisions are cutting video-on-demand and iPod deals, you’ve put The Nightly News online every night. Aren’t you worried about cannibalizing your audience?

There are still 10 million-11 million people watching Nightly News each night, but I need to think of other ways to get that broadcast in front of other sets of eyes that aren’t there at 6:30 p.m. The first week, we had a couple hundred thousand downloads.

It used to be all you had to worry about was the morning show, evening news and prime—that would have been the job. Now we have to evolve NBC News and make sure as many people as possible can see the fine work of this news division on any number of platforms.

Are you planning to stream other programs?

Meet the Press is probably next. We already make the show available as an audio podcast, and it is routinely one of the top 20 or 30 most popular downloads on iTunes. We are also looking at Today, but it is a little trickier. I’m not sure anyone will watch for three hours. We need to figure out what we would want to offer.

NBC News may be No. 1, but your cable news channel, MSNBC, is still in third place. What are your plans to revive the network?

Quietly, there has been some growth in prime time. We’re getting some traction and targeting CNN, and we think we are doing very well. I want to see that progress continue. But I also don’t want to solely define that channel by its ratings. MSNBC has made NBC a better news organization. We are more aggressive and operate in a 24/7 news environment, which the other broadcast networks do not. It is one of the reasons people come to us for breaking news.

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