While they say it's early to speculate, many of the general
managers at NBC affiliate stations are encouraged by today's (Dec. 3) announcement that
Comcast is acquiring a majority stake in NBC Universal. With Comcast's
programming expertise, seemingly all hope the cable monolith will give NBC's
long ailing primetime a shot in the arm.
"Comcast is a smart company and Steve Burke is a smart guy,"
says WPTV West Palm Beach VP/General Manager Steve Wasserman. "I'm optimistic
they'll bring good things to the table and strengthen the network where it's
needed, like primetime. I think all the general managers would be hopeful that
Comcast can offer new thoughts and ideas about primetime and how to move the
General managers acknowledge that the regulatory process
could take over a year, and no one knows for sure if the FCC will sign off on
the massive deal. And few have any inkling as to what Comcast's strategic plan
for the network-and the affiliates--will be, beyond what they read in today's
Comcast Executive V.P. David L. Cohen shed a little light on
the Comcast philosophy in a memo issued this morning. Affiliate managers were
pleased to see Cohen express commitment to local over-the-air television.
"Notwithstanding the turbulence in the current media marketplace and the
ongoing threats to the business model of a national broadcast network, the
combined company remains committed to continuing to provide free over-the-air
television through its O&O stations and through local broadcast affiliates
across the nation," wrote Cohen. "As we negotiate and renew agreements with our
broadcast affiliates, we will continue our cooperative dialogue with our
affiliates toward a business model to sustain free over-the-air service that
can be workable in the evolving economic and technological environment."
Cohen outlined a plan to "strengthen localism" that involves
using Comcast's On Demand and Web platforms and cable channels to expand the
availability of local and public interest programming. Cohen says Comcast
intends to "preserve and enrich" the local news output on NBC's owned stations,
and spoke about enhancing Telemundo and Mun2 programming on the Telemundo
O&Os' digital tier.
"On the surface it looked very positive," says KYTV
President/General Manager Michael Scott. "The statements indicate they
understand the importance of localism and free over-the-air TV. The question is
how they'll carry that forward."
NBC affiliates board chairman Michael Fiorile said the development looks favorable, at least on paper. "I'm optimistic, frankly," he says. "Comcast was interested in NBC's content assets; on its face, that's very good news for affiliates."
Fiorile said he was looking forward to sitting down with Comcast management and seeing how the new owner and the NBC affiliates could enhance each other's offerings.
While everyone's concerned with the long-term viability of
the network-affiliate relationship-especially with a cable giant taking over
broadcast network-some GMs say Comcast will make a significant effort to firm
up its commitment to affiliates in order for the deal to pass muster with the
FCC. "To gain regulatory approval, they'll need to have safeguards in place to
keep the [affiliate] relationship intact," says Scott. "It's something we don't
have in place now."
The general managers all concede that it's too early to draw
any hard conclusions on how Comcast will affect the hundreds of NBC stations
around the country. "We're taking a wait and see attitude," says WFLA Tampa
President/General Manager Mike Pumo. "NBC's prime can use a boost no matter
where it comes from. If Comcast can focus on primetime, I'm all for it. Beyond
that, it's a wait and see attitude."