With the TV critics tour a couple of week away -- as well as the growing importance of next week's Comic-Con -- NBC Universal needs to create buzz for its flagship NBC network, still sitting in fourth place, and get it on better footing.
The network has been in the doldrums for a couple of years, apart from a little stirring among viewers for "30 Rock" and "The Office" and an early rise and recent fizzle for "Heroes."
The press wants to find blame . Former NBC programming executive Katherine Pope, current NBC programming chief Ben Silverman, and even NBC Universal president/CEO Jeff Zucker, have been high on this list. To NBC Universal's credit, there's the saving financial grace of its cable networks -- as well as the NBC network's still-thriving non-prime-time dayparts, late-night programming ("The Tonight Show" and "Late Night") and early morning ("Today").
But in the most recent financial reporting period, NBC Universal posted weaker results -- mostly from NBC TV stations, as well as its stake in Ion Media, which is in bankruptcy, and a $150 million loss due to the Beijing Olympics.
Silverman has been credited with lowering the costs of productions, as well as giving all new efforts added marketing/advertising spin with added brand entertainment deals. All well and good. But at some point you want to have hits -- or whatever one calls a 4.0-plus-rated show among 18-49 viewers these days.
In years past, broadcast ratings erosion didn't matter that much -- not even a 5% annual erosion rate. Networks could still charge 9% or 12% more than they did for the previous year's advertising.
Not so these days. Broadcast erosion is now coupled with media deflation -- a deadly combination. NBC needs to generate ratings points. And Hulu isn't the answer. To paraphrase Zucker, it is still a world where few want to trade traditional TV dollars for digital pennies.
Right now, more than ever, NBC needs a big, fat hit.