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Since moving up to president of NBC Local Media’s owned stations in 2007, John Wallace has endeavored to remake those stations—including WNBC New York and KNBC Los Angeles—into round-the-clock media outlets through local “content centers” that push to all platforms. NBC also looks to reach traditional news viewers and urban tastemakers alike through its “Locals Only”-branded station Websites.
Before heading to Nashville for B&C’s News Technology Summit, Wallace spoke with Deputy Editor Michael Malone about how technology is changing the TV business. An edited transcript of the interview follows.
Describe NBC’s “content centers.”
It’s a story-driven production model. Rather than going with a show-based model, we look at a story and how that story should live on the various platforms. Each platform has a different consumer requirement. In order for us to satisfy the consumer need across the platforms, it requires a little bit of customization of that story for the appropriate platform. The content center allows the producer to produce that story for those platforms. The newsroom technology we’re using, called Dalet, enables the ease of production across the platforms.
So, effectively, the journalist that owns the story now has the ability to very easily publish across the platforms and meet the requirements of the consumer on each.
And that’s key for a group such as NBC’s where, in some markets, you’re broadcasting to the Nonstop digital channel, to taxicabs, etc.
It is, but one of the objectives for us was also that we could produce more content. In the case of New York, which was our pilot market for Nonstop, we are producing 22 hours of local shows a week for Nonstop, in addition to what we’ve been traditionally doing for WNBC. It’s a great outcome for this content center model.
Are content centers in place in all NBC-owned markets?
They’re in place in six of our markets. In the markets where we haven’t completed the model, that will be part of our process going forward.
The Nonstop channel airs only in New York. When will we see Nonstop in other NBC markets?
We’re working through the dates, but over the next six months, our intent is to roll it out in all major markets. Our plan is for the first wave to be in eight of our 10 markets.
Is the multimedia-journalist model a big part of NBC Local Media’s newsgathering strategy?
It’s not. For us, it starts with the story. In using the right tool to put the best story together, if a VJ [video-journalist] makes sense, that’s fine. But for us, we really believe in the right tool, the right resourcing for the right story.
Does the pending Comcast merger affect spending on equipment at the stations this year?
No. We’re operating as we always have.
The Daily Connection show, which features the best video clips of the day from the various NBC Universal networks and stations packaged into a program, is growing throughout the group. Stations have input on which NBCU clips appear in their local version of the show, and have their talent on it. Is Daily Connection a technological challenge to put together locally, or is it a smooth process?
It’s a smooth process. We work very closely with NBC News and assemble the shows, not only in terms of the content that’s being provided by NBC News or the other NBCU entities, but also in terms of the kinds of stories that exist that day in the markets. If we want to add more local stories in one market, we have that flexibility. It works very well.
How big a business will mobile TV be, and what is NBC doing to improve the stations’ mobile offerings?
We believe that mobile is a big opportunity, and we need to be patient as it evolves. But NBC is involved with the mobile content venture in terms of working on a viable business model for broadcasters to develop a point-to-multipoint delivery system for mobile video. We’re also very active on the application side. In each of our markets there’s an iPhone application, and we have an iPad application in development.
How’s business in general?
Business has been strong and steady. We began seeing recovery in fourth quarter last year, and it continues to be very strong.
Might we see Daily Connection on more NBC Local Media stations down the road?
It's a station-by-station decision. We're testing the format now, and we'll see how we do.
How about WNBC's LX lifestyle program? Could that franchise work in markets other than New York?
We are very happy with the format, and we're constantly working on improving it. But that would be another station-by-station decision. It really depends on what's best for that market and the competitive environment that station is in. We're not planning any major rollout.
You've seen tremendous traffic growth since NBC Local Media relaunched its Websites two years ago and really redefined TV station sites. You took the management of the sites from Internet Broadcasting (IB) back into NBC, right?
That's correct. We built an internal team, primarily our national editorial team that's based in New York, at each station, and an editorial team as well.
Do you have external partners on the sites?
We have external content partnerships, both with local bloggers and local content providers. That allows us to ensure that the consumer experience is rich. Obviously, there is limited ability to cover everything that's going on in our cities, so by having the right partnerships, we're able to offer a richer content partnership for our users. We've invested quite a bit in this platform to make it the best consumer experience for the local consumer.
Another exciting aspect is, we believe we're reaching a local news consumer that we hadn't been reaching before. The average age of our [sites' viewers] now is 37 years old, so we're reaching a younger demographic. We believe that strategy is working well.
Which new NBC show are you most looking forward to?
I'm looking forward to The Event. Another one that's coming back that I love is 30 Rock; being an NBC employee, it's a lot of fun.
Election season is heating up. Will the NBC owned stations cover the local elections in ways that are different than the last election season?
This time, we're really trying to be multi-platform. The normal comprehensive coverage we do on the broadcast channel we will do, but we have various examples across the division. In California, we have a franchise we built online called Prop 0 that has all the important political issues in California that three stations-[KNSD] San Diego, [KNBC] L.A., [KNTV] San Francisco-participate in. That content also flows over to the broadcast, so it's a really interactive way of engagement.
In New York, we'll do wall-to-wall coverage that evening on New York Nonstop. So again, [we're] offering the viewer who wants to be part of the experience that night an opportunity to sit with us on New York Nonstop throughout the evening. Different markets, different applications of the multi-platform strategy.
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