Jessell | NBCU Dissed Its Affiliates With The ‘30 Rock Special’ Peacock Push

Harry Jessell: Affiliates with whom I spoke were clearly ticked off by last week’s show, with many preempting it. “Bone-headed,” said one. Compounding the insult of being asked to air an infomercial for a host of competitors was their feeling that that they had paid through their reverse comp for actual entertainment programming on Thursday night.

Harry Jessell

To the surprise of many, Kabletown … err, I mean, Comcast … turned out to be a pretty good broadcaster. Since acquiring NBCUniversal in 2011, it has held its own in primetime and has poured millions of dollars into staffing and upgrading the facilities of its TV station group.

Over the past decade, broadcasters have repeatedly told me that, of the Big 4, NBC has been least demanding in negotiating reverse compensation and other contentious points of affiliate contracts.

So, it’s all the more puzzling that NBCU attempted to use its affiliate stations as barker channels for its second-rate cable networks and its new Peacock streaming service last Thursday night. Oh, let’s not forget the spot for the Harry Potter roller coaster at Universal Orlando.

The producers dressed it up as a 30 Rock reunion show, but it was nothing more than an informercial for a bunch of TV services that compete directly with the affiliates for viewers and advertising dollars. In fact, it was first shown to media buyers and their clients at NBCU’s virtual upfront earlier in the day.

Yes, the one-hour “special” highlighted some NBC shows and personalities, but they were given no special attention and were mostly lost in the blizzard of pitches for shows on USA, Syfy, Bravo, Oxygen and E! Ironically, Peacock was sold as a great place to watch the old shows you learned to love on NBC.


NBC affiliates saw that the program for what it was and many of them decided they wanted no part of it. From my talks with affiliates late last week, I’m figuring that groups reaching at least 60% of NBC’s homes preempted the show. The NBC’s 11 O&Os cover 30% of those homes.

I believe most of the rebellious affils went with public affairs. Here in Pittsburgh, Cox-owned WPXI aired a half-hour special on the pandemic and a half hour on the candidates for the House seat in Western Pennsylvania’s 17th congressional district. (I learned a lot. Freshman incumbent Conor Lamb is the rising star in the Democratic primary, but his Republican challenger Sean Parnell is impressive.)

Affiliates with whom I spoke were clearly ticked off by the show, the preemptions speaking for themselves. “Bone-headed,” said one. Compounding the insult of being asked to air an infomercial for a host of competitors was their feeling that that they had paid through their reverse comp for actual entertainment programming on Thursday nights.

I’m told that NBC gave the affiliates two-and-a-half minutes at the end of the program and promised to make good on the ad minutes they would normally have gotten during the time slot on later dates, but that didn’t mollify the affiliates and it should not have.

They were already upset at NBC. As I wrote a few weeks ago, they are angry at the network for usurping their ability to negotiate retrans directly with the virtual MVPDs. And they have protested the NBCU decision to pre-air NBC’s latenight shows with Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers on Peacock. That affront is still unresolved.

The infomercial was the latest manifestation of NBCU’s all-for-one-and-one-for-all marketing and sales strategy.

The strategy was unveiled four years ago at the NBC upfront presentation in New York’s Radio City Music Hall. It turned out not to be an NBC upfront, but an NBCU upfront, much to the chagrin of the NBC affiliates in attendance.

At that time, NBCU CEO Steve Burke explained that the approach would save a buck and everybody’s time.

“We did it because over the last few years, we had eight upfronts. And you think of the amount of time all of us spent — two hours at each upfront, cab rides and everything else — the amount of time and money…. It really made sense to have one unified upfront.”

Of course, there was more to it to that. NBCU sales chief Linda Yaccarino explained: “Why one upfront? It’s because this is how we sell, as one portfolio.”

I just don’t it.

To sell more advertising across the board, NBCU has concluded that it’s OK to diminish one of the four most powerful and pervasive platforms in TV, a nearly 100-year-old brand, the very foundation of its highly profitable station group and the source of billions of dollars of annual retrans and reverse comp for the sake of several undistinguished basic cable networks and an untried streaming service.

And, of course, it’s apparently also OK to aggravate your longtime TV partners that account for 70% of the reach of that powerful and pervasive TV platform.

NBCU should be treating NBC as the premium asset it is, not tossing it into the marketing, promotional and sales blender with the cable networks. Do you know what E! was carrying yesterday morning while the NBC stations were airing local news, Sunday Today and Meet the Press? The unwatchable Fifty Shades of Grey and its two idiotic sequels.

If NBCU shut down USA tomorrow, it would be a one-day story in the trades. If it shuts down NBC, it would be on the front page of every newspaper and the top of every TV newscast. It would rock the business.

If NBCU were giving NBC the respect it deserves, it would not have had NBC broadcast that show and its affiliates would not have revolted. That they did should send a loud and clear signal to NBCU management that they need to rethink how they are handling their TV assets.

As Burke said in 2016, eight upfronts is too many, but one is too few.

Next spring, when, let’s hope, we will all be erasing “virtual” for our vocabularies, NBCU should stage two upfronts — one for the proud flagship and one for the rust buckets that constitute the rest of the fleet.

Harry A. Jessell is editor at large of TVNewsCheck. He can be contacted here. You can read earlier columns here.

Comments (5)

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Insider says:

July 20, 2020 at 11:34 am

Considering less than 10 affiliates out of the roughly 50 of the I monitored In real time aired the special, hardly anyone saw it. The miserable fast ratings published in print fell even further after all the preemptions were accounted for. Of the roughly 10 affiliates that actually aired the “upfront”, most were obviously NBC O&Os.

NowACurmudgeon says:

July 20, 2020 at 9:38 pm

I recorded it the next day. I was really disappointed when I realized it was a 1 hour advertisement.

[email protected] says:

July 20, 2020 at 11:39 pm

Wood TV just aired a COVID special & the lake levels special as well at 8PM & 8:30PM.

2018bstyrevr says:

July 21, 2020 at 7:54 am

When are the affiliates going to realize the Networks are not their friends??? Are they that stupid??? the affiliate network model is in the bottom of the ninth!!

videographer says:

July 21, 2020 at 8:30 pm

I’m kind of surprised you (or the affiliates) expected anything else from Comcast. Kabletown is gonna be Kabletown – hell, it’s even in their name.

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