NBC's Convergence Queen

As NBCU digital boss, Zigler makes programming work on the Web
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When Vivi Zigler started working with digital media at NBC, she approached the task the way she does most things: by learning all sides of an issue and trying to get everybody working together in the best way possible. She was, at the time, executive VP in charge of current programming for NBC, overseeing the network's television slate, a job she'd gotten in June 2005.

Zigler began talking with executive producers about what content would work online, and what they were hoping to accomplish. The diligence impressed her boss, Jeff Gaspin, now president and COO of the Universal Television Group, and NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker, and they asked her to head up the network's digital efforts.

“We all talk about convergence, and we talk about it as this theoretical idea, but convergence is this very real thing right now,” she says. “Everything we do as a media company is affecting something else.”

“Convergence” has been the signature quality in a career that has found Zigler making the jump from reporting to marketing to entertainment—a mix she says is invaluable in her current role. “Within 30 days, Vivi had a better understanding [of the digital realm] than I did in the 18 months before,” Gaspin says.

Zigler started honing these skills while a broadcast journalism major at California Polytechnic State University. Her first media job was reporting for an ABC-affiliated news radio station near the college. That experience helped her land a job at nearby KSBY San Luis Obispo.

While she enjoyed reporting—“I was totally bit by the bug, I loved it”—she really wanted to explore the business and production side of television, and worked her way up to station manager. A stint at NBC affiliate KING Seattle as director of marketing and advertising caught the attention of 30 Rock, and Zigler was tapped by the network to handle affiliate advertising and promotion services for the local stations. She also worked on a number of acquisitions, including Telemundo and Bravo.

It was at Bravo that she first worked closely with Gaspin. “It was decided that Jeff would be running Bravo, and my job was to find a head of marketing and go back to my network job,” she says. That was the plan, but Zigler ended up adding the Bravo role to her other duties.

“We really hit it off; we had great chemistry,” Gaspin recalls. “She came in eager to learn and with all the passion one could hope for.”

That position led to her being put in charge of current programming for NBC. Kevin Reilly, who at the time was president of entertainment, “wanted to infuse the programming group with an outside perspective, someone who understood it but wasn't necessarily a slave to the way it was always done,” Zigler says. She embraced the role, and it put her on the digital path she now relishes.

Her philosophy about convergence is key, as media companies look for online revenue while their linear products face a bad economy. “We have been focused on how to provide a good environment for our [advertiser] clients, how to keep growing on the consumer side,” she says. “People are worried, 'How will I make my mortgage payment? Am I going to get laid off from my job?' One of the things we are acutely aware of is that entertainment is an escape; there is fun to be had.”

That escapism is available on the Web 24/7. The key is monetizing that on-demand access.

Toward that end, Zigler makes sure NBC secures advertisers for its Webisodes in pre-production. Intel sponsored the Rosario Dawson-led Gemini Division, which enabled the company to incorporate its products into the series and secure revenue before a single frame was shot. That leads to a different kind of Zigler convergence: bringing NBC viewers to the Web. In fact, last year NBC.com posted its highest-ever number of page views, unique visitors and video streams.

“This is a medium for the people, of the people, by the people,” Zigler says. “If we restrict their ability to consume, we will only hurt ourselves. The trick from a business perspective is to monetize what they already want to do, instead of dictating what they can and cannot do.”

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