Don't expect to see E! News host Ryan Seacrest filling in for Brian Williams on the NBC Nightly News anytime soon. But Comcast's controlling interest in General Electric's NBC Universal comes with opportunity for new synergies among the companies' news and infotainment brands.
Comcast owns cable networks including E! Entertainment and Style as well as fashion and lifestyle website Daily Candy. NBCU houses the preeminent morning news brand in NBC's Today, women's online destination iVillage, cable news networks MSNBC and CNBC, and syndicated entertainment news program Access Hollywood.
During a conference call last week with reporters announcing the new deal, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker pointed to the array of female-targeted content that a merger offers. And Comcast COO Steve Burke said the new venture would be the top provider of lifestyle content.
Executives at Comcast and NBC News said it was too early to begin content synergies.
But the merger, which must still pass regulatory muster in Washington, creates a significant amount of newsgathering duplication in the burgeoning entertainment news arena.
“Once everything is put together, they evaluate how to exploit the assets, not only people but brands,” says Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming at Katz Television Group. “Certainly E! Entertainment is a worldwide brand, so I would think the folks at NBC would be looking to capitalize on that in the same way that NBC currently makes use of programming [from NBC Universal's cable networks].”
Access Hollywood, which is co-hosted by Nancy O'Dell and Billy Bush, and E! News would seem ripe for collaboration and resource-sharing. And while Seacrest is the E! star with the best Q rating, there's also his E! News co-host Giuliana Rancic, who headlines her own reality show on Style with husband and former Apprentice star Bill Rancic.
Seacrest's Comcast deal keeps him at E! Entertainment as its lead anchor through early 2012. Comcast also has first-look rights on Ryan Seacrest Productions, which is behind Keeping up With the Kardashians, Khloe and Kim Take Miami, Denise Richards: It's Complicated and the upcoming Bank of Hollywood for E!, as well as Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution for ABC.
Seacrest also hosts Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve on ABC and has filled in for Larry King on CNN. He recently inked a three-year, $45 million deal that keeps him at American Idol through 2012 but also precludes him from appearing on primetime broadcast TV outside of his contract with CKX, the parent company of Idol producer 19 Entertainment. But that still leaves open plenty of dayparts for the hardest-working man in showbiz.
In announcing the deal, Comcast and NBC Universal stressed that the new owners would not interfere in NBC's news and public affairs programming. But corporate synergies are nothing new; news personalities have long dabbled in entertainment programming. Today co-anchors hosting coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is as much a part of the holiday as turkey and cranberries.
And the popularity of celebrity news has put pressure on network news divisions to follow scandals starring the likes of Tiger Woods and David Letterman. Such stories have breached the increasingly porous divide between hard news and infotainment.
“The line is not as clearly drawn,” Carroll adds. “The lead on the entertainment shows is Tiger Woods. But [Woods] is also the lead on the network newscasts.”