One of the first moves made by the new head of NBC’s television stations, Valari Staab, was to rename her group from NBC Local Media to NBC Owned Television Stations. While I applauded the introduction of Local Media four years ago, the time is now right for the new moniker. Staab has smartly focused the attention of every one of her employees on strengthening the 10 stations. And the name change also tells the world that the new controlling owner of NBCUniversal, Comcast, believes in the vitality and growth potential of broadcasting.
Four years ago in this space, I praised John Wallace, then the newly installed president of the NBC Owned-and-Operated Stations Group for changing the name of the group to the NBC Local Media Division.
I went on about how the move signaled that Wallace and his then boss Jeff Zucker “get it” — that they understand that it’s a multimedia world and that the TV stations have to embrace the digital media in all their endlessly proliferating forms.
Having lauded Wallace, I guess I can’t also congratulate Wallace’s successor, Valari Staab, for changing the name back to what it was or to very nearly what it was.
Oh, sure I can. Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, isn’t that right Mr. Emerson?
By rechristening the group the NBC Owned Television Stations, Staab has smartly focused the attention of every one of her employees on strengthening the 10 stations, which have fallen into disrepair in daytime (sort of like NBC in primetime).
NBC daytime is so bad that broadcast syndicators, always desperate for major market outlets, see NBC as the last resort for launching new shows. That means that even when syndicators come up with something exciting, NBC doesn’t get first shot at it.
Staab has got to get the stations right before she does anything else. They are not only the principal revenue producers, but also the engines driving the new media initiatives.
It’s about priorities. I can’t tell you how much NBC is making from its stations and its websites, but I can tell you (because BIA/Kelsey tells me) that online media accounts for just 2%-3% of the local broadcast industry’s total annual revenue — $600 million out of $18 billion this year. I bet that ratio, or something close to it, holds true for the NBC stations.
Resurrecting the stations will not be an easy task. As in the natural world, inertia is a powerful force in broadcasting. An evening newscast in second or third place tends to stay in second or third place.
Just a few weeks into Staab’s watch, things have begun to change. WNBC last week announced that it is shifting its low-rated LX New York lifestyle show from 5 p.m. to 3 p.m. to make way for another hour of conventional news at 5. I’m told to expect more such moves in the weeks and months ahead.
Another reason Staab and her troops need to focus on broadcasting is because they simply have a lot to do. In addition to straightening out the 10 O&Os, they must figure out how to make a buck on NBC’s 24-hour Nonstop news and lifestyle multicast channels. NBC is now committed to them in nine markets, having announced in May a plan to expand the franchise into California (San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco), Miami and Dallas.
Also last month, the group announced that it is seeking partnerships with outside nonprofit news organizations in four more markets. They would be modeled on the arrangement between KNSD San Diego and voiceofsandiego.org, and will take considerable time and resources to organize and manage.
It’s not like NBC is abandoning the new media. During the Wallace regime, NBC was as aggressive as any group in the country in trying to figure out and monetize the digital opportunities. It’s a strategy worth pursuing and, in the widely distributed memo announcing the name change, Staab promised that she would.
“We are committed to continuing our focus on distributing the content we produce across multiple platforms to connect with our audience wherever they want us, whenever they want us and however they want us. We are engaging viewers in more ways than ever before and that is exciting.”
What else is in a name? Staab dropped the traditional “and operated,” underscoring that it will be the local managers, not she in New York, who will be managing the stations. “Our markets are separate and distinct, and the people running the stations are in the best position to serve the needs of their communities each and every day,” her memo says.
This suggests that she will be bringing to the NBC stations some of the same local autonomy that she enjoyed in her last job as GM of KGO San Francisco under the banner of the ABC Owned Television Stations and leadership of the retired Walter Liss.
Of course, with greater autonomy comes greater accountability. It will be interesting to see how many of the GMs survive the first year of the Staab era.
I don’t want to overstate this, but I think the name change also tells the world that the new controlling owner of NBCUniversal, Comcast, believes in the vitality and growth potential of broadcasting.
That should cheer every broadcaster and give confidence to every broadcast investor.
All in all, it’s a good start for Staab.