NBC's management is overwhelmingly to blame for the recent controversy pitting Jay Leno against Conan O'Brien, and O'Brien against NBC itself, according to a poll of 129 advertising and marketing execs around the country.
A majority of advertisers and marketers surveyed by Round2 Communications also believe the controversy will hurt the network's late-night advertising. They question the wisdom of NBC's decision to stick with Leno over O'Brien.
Asked who was most responsible for the talk-show debacle, which saw the network publicly humiliated by O'Brien and gleefully ripped by competitors, 94% of respondents to the Round2 survey blamed NBC's management, compared to about 5% for Leno and 1% for O'Brien.
What's more, NBC should have expected trouble: Recalling their initial reactions when the new late-night lineup was unveiled in September 2009, 50% said: "I didn't think it would work, but expected NBC to stick with it anyway" -- while 23% said: "I expected something like this to happen," compared to just 27% who said: "I thought the new schedule would probably succeed."
A majority of respondents also said they thought NBC made the wrong decision: 47% would have kept O'Brien, versus 41% for Leno. Twelve percent said NBC should have kept both, if possible, by backing down after O'Brien voiced his objection.
As for the propriety of O'Brien's response, 67% agreed with the statement "it was fully justified in view of NBC's treatment of him," compared to just 18% who chose "it was understandable, but it made Conan look bad." Fifteen percent believed "it was unprofessional."
Moreover, 44% of respondents said they believe the controversy will hurt NBC's late-night advertising, compared to 37% who believed it would have no effect. Nineteen percent said they thought the controversy would actually help, as in "any publicity is good publicity."
The Round2 survey results are echoed by another poll of media buyers and planners conducted by MediaLife, in which 37% of respondents gave NBC management the worst possible grade for its handling of the situation (1 out of 10), with another 48% giving it a 2-3 rating, with a grand total of 85% giving NBC a failing grade.
Asked who was most damaged by the dustup, 75% chose NBC chief Jeff Zucker, trailed by Jay Leno at 18%. Conversely, 71% said Conan O'Brien came out of the showdown in the best shape, trailed by David Letterman at 14%.
Perhaps most damning, 58% of the MediaLife poll respondents agreed on one point: "It was a spectacle like I've never seen before, proving just how poorly managed the company is. They should have never allowed O'Brien and Leno to let it play out like that on television."