Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Spotlight Feature: Could NBC's woes be cured with less?

By Frank Macek

Anyone who follows the Nielsens has no doubt noticed that NBC still lags in prime time ratings and late news numbers are falling for the 11 p.m. time slot across the country. The trend started several years ago and will eventually force broadcasters to re-think their late night strategies.

Broadcasters feel that to win late night, means the ability to win earlier mornings as well - with the belief that whatever channel a viewer is on at bedtime will be the channel they begin the new day with.

The new world reality is viewers are working longer days, getting home later and going to bed earlier. This trend is not likely to change anytime soon as a worsening economy forces people to change their lifestyles to fit their increasing work demands.

Could this be an opportunity for NBC to re-define itself now, using the highly successful FOX model that has turned that network, and it's local news operations, into a powerhouse?

I think so. And here's why...

The Reality:

*NBC is facing an internal battle between Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien. Jay says he isn't really ready to give up "The Tonight Show" to Conan O'Brien next year. If fact, Leno is seeing his best numbers for the network, thanks in large part to the Writers Guild strike that proved to viewers Leno still has the right stuff, while Conan came off as less than polished. It will be a $40 million penalty for the network if Conan isn't given the job in 2009.

*NBC is facing higher production costs for its prime time programming. And with an Actor's strike looming - the network may well find itself running Law & Order episodes a hundred times a week. Even NBCU CEO Jeff Zucker calls the looming strike a potential "devastating" hit.

*Local NBC affiliates 11 p.m. news ratings are quickly on the decline. Fortunately for WKYC, we have remained strong thanks to a consistent news product - while other stations across the nation have seen dramatic nosedives after being unable to combat lower NBC primetime numbers.

In fairness to the network, prime time numbers have improved - but not to the levels where NBC will become #1 again in the forseeable future. And that's a problem.

The Solution:

*NBC should consider cutting its primetime schedule to 2 hours from 8 to 10 p.m.

*Local news moves to 10 p.m. - one full hour earlier to help stations recapture the lost news audience from 11 p.m.

*Jay Leno gets a brand new show at 10:30 p.m. which keeps him at NBC and gets late night programming, which is cheaper to produce, started earlier.

*Conan O'Brien succeeds Jay as host of "The Tonight Show" at 11:30 p.m. - as planned next year.

Whether NBC seriously considers the success that FOX is having with a shortened primetime schedule, plus the opportunity to strengthen our late night schedule still remains to be seen.

But for local stations, this could be the one big chance to replenish our late news numbers with a shift to 10 p.m.

Your thoughts are welcome. You can email me at: fmacek@wkyc.com

Disclaimer: The comments are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of WKYC.

No comments: