Say goodbye to the 10 pm hour of network-controlled broadcast television.
That was the consensus among a panel of local station chiefs interviewed at NAB Show New York, including NBCUniversal Local Chairman Valari Staab. Her company di lei has stunned the industry in recent weeks by confirming it is actively considering handing back the hour to stations, giving her division what she calls “a different sandbox” to explore. Asked if he expects other media giants to follow NBCU’s lead, Hearst Television chief Jordan Wertleib replied, “I expect they will and I hope they will.”
Wertleib and Staab said media companies are reckoning with the fact that in a world of secular ratings decline, with streaming services controlling the largest chunk of scripted TV viewing and attention, the economics of programming three hours every night make decreasing sense. (Other broadcast nets Fox and The CW have never had the full three hours.) Not only would the expense of programming and promoting an hour of primetime be eliminated, but the media companies could also benefit via their owned stations, as would major stand- alone groups like Hearst.
“Valari made a good point and it applies to all the networks,” Wertleib said. “Take those resources and invest it in a really strong 8 to 10 block and the entire ecosystem improves.”
NBCU CEO Jeff Shell, in an interview with CNBC this month, said no final decision has been made about the primetime shift, but he confirmed that the company is committed to “reallocating resources” in that area to make the most of the current operating environment .
Asked what might go in a 10 pm hour controlled by her division, Staab said “it will definitely look probably different than a traditional newscast, but it’s a huge opportunity for us across the board.” While many stations are looking to add more news, given the generally favorable return on investment, lifestyle programming, game shows or sports are all possibilities. Sinclair Broadcast Group CEO Chris Ripley addressed his company’s recent teaming with CSI creator Anthony Zuiker to mine the station group’s archives and work with staffers to create original programming for Sinclair as well as outside buyers.
Ripley didn’t go into detail about his company’s outlook on the 10 pm hour, but he didn’t mince words when describing the landscape. “Streaming has gutted the general entertainment and cable networks,” he said. “Literally gutted them. When you take a look at that, the core strength of the pay-TV bundle is live, day-and-date content, which is the strength of broadcast. Within the ecosystem, I think broadcast TV will continue to do quite well. ”
Wertleib pushed back at a recent report by Wall Street investment firm Moffett Nathanson that posited that linear television is in a death spiral, shedding 6 million subscribers a year (and counting). “The prognostication of the death of linear television has been going on for 40 years,” he said. While many Wall Street analysts say the bundle could shrink to half its current size of around 70 million US households in the coming year, Wertleib sees the floor as more like 60 million. “Every year, we surprise the marketplace because the American public loves broadcast television.”