NBC is considering giving back the 10 p.m. hour of primetime to local affiliates, a potentially significant tipping point for the legacy broadcast TV model.
Internal discussions have been going on for a number of years at the Comcast-owned NBCU, according to a person familiar with the situation, and no firm decision has been reached. The soonest a move could be made would be a year from now, given the complex web of agreements in place with affiliates and advertisers.
“We are always looking at strategies to ensure that our broadcast business remains as strong as possible,” an NBC spokesperson said in a statement provided to Deadline. “As a company, our advantage lies in our ability to provide audiences with the content they love across broadcast, cable and streaming.”
ABC, CBS and NBC have each offered at least three hours of national primetime programming for decades. As newer challengers like Fox and the CW arrived on the scene, they bore an asterisk to many industry observers due to the fact that they only programmed two hours a night. Until a few years ago, the CW also did not air anything on Saturday night and then recently went to the full seven days a week by programming Sundays, though the allotment is still two hours each night, as it is for Fox.
The nightly schedules for broadcast networks, particularly the legacy Big Three, have already started to reflect the changing times. Live sports and non-scripted fare has begun dominating the grid given the difficulty of launching and sustaining popular shows chiefly based on their popularity on linear TV. Rights for sports, however, have been rising sharply, and NBCU has a piece of pricey ones for the NFL and college’s Big Ten conference. Those deals include provisions for live games to be shown only on streaming, another sign of the times.
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Reducing the commitment to broadcast primetime hours would ease financial pressure on NBCUniversal in terms of funding a linear lineup at a time when viewership and pay-TV subscription levels continue to decline. Companies like NBCU are increasingly looking at their full portfolios, across streaming, linear and other platforms, and managing toward what they see as the most profitable outcomes. Already, the long-established practice of investing in pilots and then picking certain of them up to series has begun crumbling as full-season greenlights have become commonplace during the streaming era.
The restructuring of NBCU’s management has indicated the strategic direction of things, with longtime sports veteran Mark Lazarus now serving as chairman of NBCUniversal Television and Streaming. Peacock, the streaming service launched two years ago by NBCU, generated more than $1 billion in ad revenue, according to company estimates of its sales in the upfront marketplace. Lines have been increasingly blurred between broadcast, cable and streaming in terms of their respective programming strategies.
While the local TV business faces a range of challenges similar to those faced by broadcast and cable network owners, stations have seen a windfall in political advertising. News programming, which has elbowed out syndicated fare on many stations in recent years, is cheaper to produce and has proven a reliable ratings draw in many markets, especially as newspapers and radio stations have declined.
Nexstar Media Group, the No. 1 owner of local TV stations, recently closed its acquisition of the CW, offering another point of intersection between the local and national TV sectors.
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the latest NBC deliberations.
One scenario, according to the Journal, if NBC drops the third hour of primetime would be to move The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon earlier each night. Execs said in 2020 that Peacock Premium, the streaming outlet’s subscription tier, would offer early access to both shows during the heart of primetime. The move, which initially caused consternation among some NBC affiliates, has been on indefinite hold because of Covid and other factors, according to Peacock execs.
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