NBC Universal's Kim Niemi is partly to thank for television using up-and-coming musicians to score some of primetime's hottest shows.
Niemi, 41, came to NBC by way of Capitol Records. While working in Capitol's A&R department, she realized television was a highly underutilized way to break new artists.
"I went to my boss and asked if I could see if I could find a marketing angle there," she says. "I was given the green light, so off I went."
NBC worked with Capitol artists and Niemi on several shows such as Saved by the Bell, California Dreams and Hang Time. In 1999, the network created the position of VP of music and business development for her.
It turned out to be her dream job. The 1988 Cal State-Northridge grad had a bachelor's degree in television directing, and she wrote music on the side. Her new focus allowed her to marry several skills and talents.
Soon, Niemi wasn't only hooking bands up with TV shows and creating soundtracks. She also began creating a side business for the network.
NBC had just begun to develop enterprises such as home shopping, merchandise and video sales. When she was able to concoct a successful merchandising business for gross-out reality show Fear Factor, she knew she was on to something that's turned out to be a major motor for NBC Universal.
"That show had a triple negative whammy against it," she says. At the time, most licensing was aimed at kids, not adults, and derived from movies, not TV—and whammy No. 3, definitely not from reality TV.
But she got Baskin-Robbins to team on a Fear Factor promotion, and got Mead Paper to develop school supplies with creepy Fear Factor bugs and other scary stuff. A stream of other products followed.
"Kim has brought a tremendous amount of creativity and business insight to NBCU's television licensing and merchandising," says her boss, NBC Executive Vice President Jerry Petry.
Now merchandising is so much a part of the NBC Universal scene that by the end of the year, every NBC Universal network will have its own online storefront.
Niemi was named senior VP in 2002, and she's taking on the world. In February, she and her team were assigned oversight of all NBC Universal TV Group global licensing and merchandising.
That includes everything from merchandising Heroes-based action figures to Biggest Loser cookbooks and Work Out fitness DVDs.
She sounds like she's just getting started.
"It took a while to get people to think differently, but now things are evolving," says Niemi, who has been married for 20 years and has three children. "Instead of someone at a distance saying, 'Should we create this merchandise?' the producers are given a window to get involved. That helps us come up with a lot of new and unique product. We really are changing." —Paige Albiniak