TCA: Greenblatt Says NBC on Verge of Expanding OTT Far Beyond ‘Toe in Water’

Updated: Entertainment chairman says news is a couple months away; insists candidate Trump not an NBC production
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Complete Coverage: TCA Summer 2016

Beverly Hills, Calif. -- NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said during his executive session at TCA summer press tour that a major expansion of the network's OTT offerings is likely a couple of months away.

“I’m not ready to talk about anything definitive, but hopefully in the next couple months we’ll have something to talk about, which could be really exciting," he said. CBS recently announced it has racked up 2 million subscribers to stand-alone services from CBS and Showtime, and ABC last spring dramatically expanded its Watch ABC app's programming.

"We’re in a unique position because our sister company is a cable company and the OTT strategy is a competitive take from what the cable business is," Greenblatt said. "Whatever we do in that space, we want to do something that is not an affront to the cable business or distributors. So we’re trying to craft something that is a good thing for them as well. So we’re not there yet, but hopefully in the very near future we’ll have something to talk about. In the meantime, we’re doing a lot of toe in the water approaches," such as full streaming of Olympic events and targeted SVODs like the comedy-themed Seeso.

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"It's easier for CBS to do it because they don’t have cable companies, except for Showtime, which is a pay service so it’s essentially over-the-top already. And ABC, we’re already doing a lot of the things ABC is doing. I think we can go beyond that."

Jennifer Salke, president of NBC Entertainment, added that Comcast and NBCU’s stakes in Vox, BuzzFeed and Snapchat and digital stable of several dozen online businesses means the network is “already integrated” on the entertainment side.

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Asked by B&C after the session about reduced ad loads, which Turner, Viacom and other programmers are exploring, he said, “It’s always a good thing to look at the ad load. At the same time, I get a billion-plus dollars from the company to buy programming and somebody’s got to pay for it.” NBC has experimented with sponsored ad reductions on shows like The Sound of Music and in select other cases, Greenblatt noted. “Anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of viewing is done off the linear network,” he added. With such viewing, whether on set-top box or SVOD, “there’s already a reduced ad load. So in a way, that’s kind of already happening. And you could say, ‘Well, that’s why people are gravitating to it.’”

Asked about Donald Trump and NBC’s background role in his presidential run from his run as host of The Apprentice, Greenblatt mused, “Isn’t it the role of television to create celebrity in the world? That's what every show does.” But he then rebuffed the assertion that the network was responsible for effectively launching Trump’s political career. "Garry Trudeau was predicting Trump would run for president 15 years ago, before he was on The Apprentice," he said.

“He’s the Republican nominee. He’s going to be on news programs and late-night shows just like anyone else,” Greenblatt told reporters after the session. But if he loses the election, he would not return to the NBC primetime lineup “as long as I’m here.”

Greenblatt used his 15-minute prepared remarks, which led into a longer Q&A period with Salke, to make the case that NBC “has defied a lot of the gloom and doom trends we’ve been hearing about broadcast network television. We are thriving in an era of unprecedented change.”

Since Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal about six years ago, ratings for NBC’s primetime entertainment shows have risen 17%, he said. “A lot of people thought there was no way to turn around a broadcast network, one of those dying dinosaurs,” Greenblatt said.

Greenblatt offered an array of other ratings stats, arguing that while CBS edged NBC in 18-to-49-year-old viewers, when looking at the full 52-week year, September to August 2015-16, NBC is projecting its third straight annual win, thanks to the Olympics. The full-year race “is what matters—we all know that, right?” Greenblatt said. “The nine-month season seems obsolete.”

Greenblatt noted that NBC is launching just three new shows in the fall—Timeless, This is Us and The Good Place—two of which are leading out of The Voice. That’s half as many as in some past seasons.

The network is adding another Dick Wolf-produced, Chicago-set show, Chicago Justice. Greenblatt said it would be “gilding the lily” to add a fourth one, but didn’t rule it out. Salke said inevitably some sort of crossover event was likely this season, but “we’re still trying to figure it out.”

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