NBC's Greenblatt: 'Event' Programs Key For Networks

Los Angeles -- With broadcast audience erosion still at 4% to 7% per season -- and network TV advertisers still grumbling -- broadcast networks are looking to spike schedules with live, big-time “event” programming to bring back viewers.

Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, said this was a major objective for NBC and most other broadcast networks.

“I would love you to take away from this today that we need to be in the event business,” Greenblatt said, speaking at the Television Critics Association meeting here on Saturday. “ You're going to hear that from every broadcast network.”

Much of this has to do with time-shifted activity of viewers -- which TV marketers can view as less valuable than those watching live programming.

This September, NBC is doing a big live quiz show for two weeks called "Million Second Quiz."  Among the other programs to come is a holiday family event -- a live broadcast of "The Sound of Music," in early December.  

NBC will also do more miniseries to push its “event” programming agenda, including the forthcoming "AD: After the Bible" from Mark Burnett; a six-hour miniseries based on Cleopatra; and updated remake of "Rosemary's Baby.”

This even includes existing programming: Big sports programming -- the NFL, the Olympics -- is live event programming on NBC and is given major TV ad dollars from marketers. But Greenblatt also views "The Voice" and "America's Got Talent" as event shows.

He will also look to amp up “event”-type programming around current series, "Saturday Night Live” -- even late-night talks, while not technically live, have what he calls the “feel of the moment.” Shows like "Golden Globes" and the "Thanksgiving Day Parade" are also important.

NBC made some progress this season with good ratings results from “The Voice” and rookie show “Revolution.” The NFL’s “Sunday Night Football” was also a major part of the net's success. But Greenblatt says even leaving sports out of the equation, NBC still made gains: “We improved 30 of 43 weeks of the year so far," in looking at season-to-date results, including the summer, he says.

NBC has been essentially “flat” in viewership this past season versus the year before, he says -- better than most networks. “I know one could say -- how good is it to celebrate being flat?  But at this point in our business, flat is the new up.”

One thing is certain: NBC would not consider some cable shows -- seemingly big hits -- for its network. The financial model would not work.

“[AMC’s] ‘Walking Dead’ is an anomaly, and there are maybe one or two shows on cable that are anomalies," Greenblatt says. But those shows, if they did the ratings in our world that they do on those services,  they'd be cancelled. You couldn't make them financially viable, except for ‘The Sopranos.’ ” 

Critically acclaimed shows like HBO’s "Girls"? Nope, that wouldn’t work either. With a premiere rating under 1 million viewers, he says, “that would be sort of very close to cancellation, if not canceled, in our world because we have to serve a different financial master.”



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