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NBC Believes In Localized TV Everywhere

NBC Broadcasting Chairman Ted Harbert says his company’s push to develop TVE is “an incredibly complex and expensive operation,” but when it’s in place “it will be a terrific experience for consumers.”

NBC Broadcasting Chairman Ted Harbert told station marketing executives Thursday that NBC is working hard to develop the “machinery” that will allow its O&Os and affiliates to deliver TV Everywhere (TVE) service in cooperation with cable and satellite operators.

“It’s an incredibly complex and expensive operation we are starting,” he said at a Promax BDA Station Summit panel session in Las Vegas.

He said that parent NBCU is plunging in, even though it isn’t sure “what the business is,” because having NBC and its popular cable networks available on mobile devices is what consumers want.

Cable and satellite developed TVE as a way of retaining subscribers by allowing them to watch certain channels on their smartphones and tablets wherever they are.

This spring, NBC, along with ABC and Fox, said they wanted to be part of the service and invited their affiliates to join them.

Harbert stressed that the NBC version of TVE would give affiliates the opportunity to locally brand the service. “We believe in the localized version of TV Everywhere.”

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Harbert didn’t give a timetable for the service. But, he said, “when we do it, it will be a terrific experience for consumers.”

Also on the panel were other top broadcast executives: Scott Blumenthal, EVP, television, LIN Media; Deborah McDermott, president-CEO, Young Broadcasting; Emilio Romano, president, Telemundo Media; and Larry Wert, president, broadcast media, Tribune.

McDermott and Blumental, operators of many network affiliates, shared Harbert’s enthusiasm for TVE. “Getting into TV Everywhere, the way they [the networks] are looking at it right now, is a great advantage for us…, said McDermott. “Our future is in doing this.”

Because only “authenticated” cable and satellite subscribers will be able to receive the service, she said, the service providers will know who is watching and broadcasters will be able to sell local commercials targeting those viewers.

Added Blumenthal: “I think it is going to grow … and I think it is going to be in the consumers’ best interest. The fact that they are taking the initiative and doing it through the local affiliates … is a terrific statement on the [network-affiliate] relationship that sometimes gets criticized in the press.”

The panelists also addressed what impact the current wave of station consolidation was having on the business; the role of marketing in keeping viewers tuned in and, of course, how broadcasting should exploit social media.

With Young set to merge with Media General, it was no surprised that McDermott said she believes that consolidation was an advantage for those station groups that were getting larger.

They get “a bigger seat at the table,” which helps in cutting better deals with the networks, cable and satellite operators and vendors, she said. The scale provides “across-the-board savings” on whatever it is being bought.

But the “more powerful” implication of consolidation is that it leads to better content, she said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to take those resources and some of these savings and bring them back to the stations to be more innovative, more creative.”

She acknowledged that some are critical of consolidation, believing that it reduces the number of “voices” in a community. But that is not necessarily the case, she said. The “good, quality companies” allow their stations some independence so that they retain their own individual voices.

Blumenthal agreed, saying that only large companies have the resources to develop new services, especially in the digital realm. Stations have to figure out how to get their content to consumers when and where they want it, he said. “You need size to do that.”

Calling Tribune the “land of misfit toys” because of its odd mix of independents and CW and Fox affiliates, Wert said one downside of size is the tendency to commoditize stations. As groups strive for efficiencies, he said, they must preserve the local identities of each station.

Like Tribune, NBC has been sitting out this round of buying and selling. Harbert said the company is focused on reviving the 10 stations that it already owns and that had been allowed to waste away during General Electric’s ownership. GE, he said, “really didn’t believe in the business.”

Comcast, which acquired control of NBC two years ago, has been investing in the stations and that investment has started to pay off at eight of the 10 stations. “We have seen a huge uptick in our performance,” he said. “We think it is a fantastic business.”

Four of the five panelist said that the payoff from digital media is still way off, partly because measurement of digital usage is still a work in progress. The outlier was Blumenthal.

Digital in all its iterations have become financially important to LIN Media, Blumenthal said. Through startups and acquisitions, he said, the company’s digital division has grown from seven people to nearly 300 over the past five years and now accounts for 20% of total revenue.

However, he said, he remains wary of relying too heavily on the parade of social media — Twitter, Facebook and now Instragram.

“They are not branding media; they are not,” he said. LIN is not going to put its future “in the hands of a company over which I have no control.”

When the discussion turned to station marketing and promotion, Blumenthal and Harbert had contrasting views.

For Blumenthal, the priorities have changed. The most important thing is analysis, figuring out what the market niche is, who is in that niche and then how to motivate them, he said. Only then, should creative become engaged.

Harbert, on the other hand, said that creative is still what really matters. “The amount of noise out there is incredible.” Marketers are using every means possible to reach people and they are not listening, he said. “They are tuning out.”

The only way to crack through is with the creative. “Why is everybody talking about the AT&T commercial with the guy with the little kids?”

For all the talk about social media, none of the executives is a heavy user of them.

Harbert said he uses them “in a voyeuristic way” to keep an eye on what the NBC stars and networks were saying. “But I don’t post myself.”

McDermott also confessed to being a “stalker.” She logs on to Facebook and Twitter mostly to keep track of her sons. “They keep me up to date [on social media] because I’m trying to figure out what they are doing.”

Blumental was the least involved, saying he has no personal social media accounts.


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