NBC Universal employees are bracing for the worst as Chairman-CEO Bob Wright and NBC U TV Group CEO Jeff Zucker are convening town hall meetings in Los Angeles and New York for what is expected to be news of restructuring and job cuts.
Sources say Wright will appear on the Universal Studios lot near Burbank on Thursday while Zucker holds a similar meeting with East Coast employee in New York. NBC press reps were not available at press time.
The sessions follow weeks of smaller job cuts at NBC's syndication unit, for example, and rumors of much wider layoffs and other belt-tightening measures. While the expensive acquisition of NFL football games on Sunday night is driving NBC's average primetime ratings up this season, the network is suffering crucial misfires.
The high-profile drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip has disappointed. The network had been counting on promotion in its new Sunday Night Football franchise to bring viewers to the Aaron Sorkin series, which bears a huge price tag thanks to its big-name ensemble cast. But the show has performed below expectations in the ratings indicating a show centered around television fails to hold the same gravitas for the audience as one based at the White House.
Other disappointments include Kidnapped, Friday Night Lights and even last season's hit, My Name is Earl.
Further analysts believe footballs high license fees mean the company is losing money on the games, so the ratings boost is probably not raising profits.
NBC O&O stations unit, a huge profit center for the company, has been hurting due to lower ratings from its syndicated shows leading into profitable afternoon newscasts in major markets, such as New York and Los Angeles.
Over the past several years, the station group gave up rights to the expensive, but high-performing, shows such as Dr. Phil and Judge Judy that had bolstered the early evening newscasts.
NBC U also recently unveiled a new syndicated talk show with Megan Mullally, which has been performing at under a 1 rating.
On the cable side, NBC U has been considering drastic measures, including scrapping all of MSNBC's live programming and switching to a taped, magazine-like format, while switching successful personalities Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann over to sibling CNBC's primetime slate.