How To Revive NBC? Comcast Actually Knows The Way
Forget about all the digital/online distribution of content for the moment -- and even the issue about whether Jeff Zucker should hang around after the deal is completed. Holding onto the NBC network and giving it a new financial model is the real key.
Getting a dollar a subscriber as a cable network will give NBC around $1.2 billion a year to play with, added to the two billion or so it already gets from national TV advertising per year.
NBC's brand, while diminished, still has value. It still speaks of quality writing -- especially when looking at "30 Rock" or "The Office" or "Community." But it needs a lot more -- things only a cable entity can provide.
Just think of it. As a cable network, it could have held onto to the likes of a "Southland" -- a critics' favorite -- all because of cable's dual revenue stream financial model. Perhaps it could have given "Heroes" a better creative platform to evolve and establish a solid core, instead of the show's being desperately pulled around story-wise.
If Comcast is really worried about content, it should focus on all those TV producers who felt abandoned and pissed off when NBC made the 10 p.m. move with Jay Leno. These factors could finally make NBC edgier and more important, under, say, a "TV network 4.0 plan."
As a cable network, NBC would be freed up content-wise. After all, viewers were promised when the cable industry was starting up decades ago that programming would be daring and original, in part because cable shows wouldn't be restricted by FCC content and language rules.
I'm not saying the freedom to curse will bring back viewers, but it'll send a creative signal to TV producers that future video content under Comcast is truly held in high regard.
It wasn't that long ago when top NBC executives used to groan over a show like "The Sopranos" for what it could get away with content-wise; for its success, despite its small audience relative to broadcast network shows; for the positive spin from critics; and the award-winning marketing patina it gave HBO.
Want to make NBC cool again? Do what viewers still sense NBC is capable of: make even better TV shows. Make it a cable network.