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Talking With Jay Ireland

12/08/2006 08:02:00 PM Eastern

With the loss of three top executives in just a few weeks, the new face of NBC Universal (NBCU) is taking form. Those changes also mean Jay Ireland, head of the network’s TV stations, is getting expanded duties.

Last week, Keith Turner, sales/marketing president with almost two decades at 30 Rock, was replaced by Michael Pilot, who for three years ran the equipment finance division for General Electric, NBCU’s parent. Reporting to Pilot will be Edward Swindler, named chief operating officer of the sales division.

In mid November, Group President/COO Randy Falco left to become CEO at AOL. After that, David Zaslav, president of NBCU Cable and Domestic TV and New Media Distribution, landed as the new CEO of Discovery Networks.

Network-watchers wonder if and when NBCU TV Group CEO Jeff Zucker will take Chairman Bob Wright’s place and if Wright, 63, is ready to retire after a very successful run.

Other changes: NBCU West Coast President Mark Graboff adds oversight of domestic TV distribution. John Eck, president, Media Works, and chief information officer, will report to Wright, as will Bruce Campbell, executive VP of business development. And Communications Executive VP Cory Shields, who had reported to digital chief Beth Comstock, now reports to Wright, too.

Ireland gets a new title: president, NBC Universal Television Stations and Network Operations. And more work. He’ll oversee syndication, affiliate relations, Telemundo and network operations.

With the loss of three top executives in just a few weeks, the new face of NBC Universal is taking form. Those changes also mean Jay Ireland, head of the network’s TV stations, is getting expanded duties.

Last week, Keith Turner, sales/marketing president with almost two decades at 30 Rock, was replaced by Michael Pilot, who for three years ran the equipment finance division for General Electric, NBCU’s parent. Reporting to Pilot will be Edward Swindler, named chief operating officer of the sales division.

In mid November, Group President/COO Randy Falco left to become CEO at AOL. After that, David Zaslav, president of NBCU Cable and Domestic TV and New Media Distribution, landed as the new CEO of Discovery Networks.

Network-watchers wonder if and when NBCU TV Group CEO Jeff Zucker will take Chairman Bob Wright’s place and if Wright, 63, is ready to retire after a very successful run.

Other changes: NBCU West Coast President Mark Graboff adds oversight of domestic TV distribution. John Eck, president, Media Works, and chief information officer, will report to Wright, as will Bruce Campbell, executive VP of business development. And Communications Executive VP Cory Shields, who had reported to digital chief Beth Comstock, now reports to Wright, too.

Ireland gets a new title: president, NBC Universal Television Stations and Network Operations. And more work. He’ll oversee syndication, affiliate relations, Telemundo and network operations.

Speaking to B&C's Jim Benson, Ireland discusses the challenges ahead.

How do you manage your numerous assets?

Managing is all about having a great team and we have great leaders across all of our divisions. I will work with them to add a bit more value. And since a majority of all of the businesses is wrapped around local television, I’ll be looking at the way that they are all tied together.

How will you add more value?

Taking new chances and changing the model of local TV stations.

Such as?

[It will be a continuation of] developing centralization by utilizing technology that we can apply to stations and operations, and revamping what we do on a daily basis. In terms of programming, we have launched more local shows.

Are you happy with the performance of the station group?

From a local station perspective, we need to grow with our local viewer base. It is not predicated on dayparts. We have to figure out how to reach viewers, no matter what the platform: TV, the Web, our digital channels and mobile. There’s a plethora of opportunities out there and we’re excited because we are local.But in every market we want to be the top brand in news, information, weather and entertainment.

What about the performance of your new iVillage series on the O&Os?

I’m very satisfied. This is the first time we’ve been able to have interactivity during a show. It’s more important to take an integrated package to advertisers than just having them buy a typical 30-second spot.

How long will you give it to succeed?

We’ll give it a lot of room to grow in the daytime ratings.

Will the NBC Television Stations keep developing projects on its own like iVillage or will everything now shift over to the syndication side?

The general managers are all very capable and when they want to take a shot with time periods, and it makes sense financially, they will have the ability to do that. It is their station.

Does your appointment signify NBC Universal’s continued faith in first-run programming?

From my standpoint after seven years in this business, there’s not a whole lot of success in the entire industry. Only a few new shows have been able to launch.

So what do you do?

We have to reach out to viewers and make them feel like we our offering them compelling television that they need to watch. We’re all struggling with that. Everyone is coming out with court shows, which as an industry over kills a genre. (NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution President) Barry (Wallach) and I have talked about this and about projects like iVillage … that very hopefully we will be able to expand.

Are you looking to follow the lead of Fox and use the stations as a test lab?

When we looked at iVillage, we wanted to give it enough exposure across the 10 stations (before expanding it). We’ve also been taking shots with local programming. The Ten Show in Philadelphia has worked and a couple of things didn’t, like in Miami.

So will the station group only take first-run shows from NBC U, or are you open to pitches from everyone?

We’re open. We already have a mix of stuff from almost everyone.

Would you consider having the syndication division develop first-run projects for other major market station groups?

Sure. Their job is content development. We need to develop content on as many platforms as are available.

Is Megan Mullally long for this world?

We believe in the show and in Megan. We’re going to continue to evaluate it.

Is there anything new in store for Telemundo?

We’re just going to continue with the expansion into other markets and see how we can help them.

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