Gaspin Comes Full Circle

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Jeff Gaspin, president, NBC Universal Cable Entertainment, Digital Content and Cross-Network Strategy, oversees entertainment content for NBC Universal’s digital platforms. Heading into the broadcast upfronts, he discussed telcos, online branding and NBC’s multiplatform philosophy, dubbed “TV 360,” with B&C’s Anne Becker.

Why does this seem to be the year of the multiple platforms?

Over the year we’ve heard from advertisers and we’ve just felt it from producers.

[The introduction of] Apple’s video iPod was a big moment for everybody to realize the media landscape was really changing.

The initial success of the video iPod and the continued success of it was a partial tipping point. But the truth is, throughout the year we all realized that things are moving very quickly in a multiplatform direction.

How is the frenzy surrounding digital content different from what we saw during the dotcom boom?

To a large extent it’s back to the future, back to 10 years ago when “interactive TV” was a big buzzword.

The dotcom craze of the late ’90s—it’s back in full force on all fronts. Two huge differences this time are that the technology has caught up and the advertisers are onboard. This is something that was slowly happening, but it really felt this year like it all happened all at once.

Once we all realized that advertising on the Web went from $2 billion to $10 billion in the past few years, we had to pay attention, and it raised our eyebrows. We’re all coming to terms with it at the same time. This isn’t early adopters leading others. This is everybody kind of realizing it at once.

Jeff Zucker has said that “TV 360” will be the focus of NBC’s upfront pitch this year—what exactly does that mean?

TV 360 means that we are considering all platforms. You have content in the center—the show, the idea—and you consider all the platforms that go around that, wireless, online, on-air, interactive. Whatever distribution platforms—iPod or whatever—are available, is there some way to exploit that content on some of those platforms? Not every [program] is going to have them all.

It’s a big part of what we’re presenting at upfront. You will see that any show that gets picked up for series will also have other elements that go along with it.

Do you give equal attention to each of the emerging digital platforms?

When most people talk about digital, the focus is online. Understand that it’s much bigger than that and that interactive TV is starting to play a role.

This isn’t just about branding or launching online services. You really have to look at everything about the digital universe. Online is just the biggest player at the moment, but that can change as new set-top boxes come out.

You’re going to see the phone companies entering this space in a much bigger way than they already have, so mobile is going to be a huge part.

You really have to look at all the possibilities, and that’s what 360 is about, not just looking at online.

People focus on Web sites when they think about this new digital world, and it’s certainly the most prevalent of the new digital technologies, but it’s going to be shared with a lot of others, which is why experimenting on multiple platforms is important.

NBC has announced NBBC, the broadband project with your affiliates. What about a broadband site for your entertainment properties?

You can look forward to many announcements from NBC in the coming weeks.

I mean, we’ve already talked about Webisodes and The Office. We did ask all our shows this year, certainly the ones we own, to come up with digital elements beyond their pilots that could exist, if they were picked up in series, as companions to those series. You’ll see a lot of that from us.

What you’ve seen from a lot of the Big Four other than Fox is, we’ve been building our on-air brands online. Fox actually went and concentrated on online brands. With our [$600 million] purchase of iVillage [in March], you’re getting some of the same from us.

I would call iVillage an online brand. I would call NBC an on-air brand. I think you can have successful companion online brands, but I think their upside is limited. iVillage or MySpace [which News Corp. acquired in July for approximately $580 million] are true online brands.

You’re on the team to integrate iVillage into NBC U. How is that going?

We don’t own it yet, so there’s very little you can do. The thing about iVillage and our assets is, there’s not a lot of overlap, as opposed to when we merged with Universal and had two cable-distribution groups.

The integration is more just getting them on our systems, getting them to understand our processes—things more from a backroom operation.

What can you tell me about your upcoming Web-based talent search show called StarTomorrow?

StarTomorrow is an online series that will allow the user to watch five minutes at a time or an hour at a time.

We’re going give them the pieces to create their own show in five-minute increments. They’ll have the option of building the show the way they want to.

We’ll release content on a weekly basis. We’ve partnered with Tommy Mottola. It will be sponsored and will be highly integrated [with brands].

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