Program ownership dominated the broadcast upfronts for a second straight year, with some networks pushing to own or co-own nearly 100% of their new scripted series. NBC took a 50% stake in new drama series Timeless, from Sony TV, but opted not to do it with 20th TV dramedy This Is Us or Warner Bros. TV comedies Trial & Error and Powerless. It is not a blanket mandate, NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt indicated after NBC’s TCA executive session.
“It depends on the show. Getting ownership means you’re also starting to pay the deficit from Day 1,” he said. “I don’t believe having ownership in everything makes sense. I don’t want a piece of show that does on for three years and fails. … We are getting smart about what shows we can come in as co-producers on, with certain studios like Timeless, which we are full co-producers with Sony. There are other shows where we didn’t feel like it was warranted. I don’t think we run the network by that measure.”
As for shows from NBC’s sister studio Universal TV, “it’s important to own your hits and license your failures. … We all want to own more of these things if we think there’s some real upside,” he said.
There was a change at the top of Universal TV in May, with NBC’s head of drama Pearlena Igbokwe replacing Bela Bajaria. “We’re at a turning point where I want to increase the amount of big dramas that go internationally and have the potential for syndication and just grow that,” Greenblatt said.
Owning content would allow NBC to exploit it for OTT platforms the way CBS does with CBS All Access. A NBCUniversal-branded SVOD service is coming, “hopefully in the next couple of months,” Greenblatt said.
“Some kind of OTT digital strategy will happen; it’s where the audience is telling us to go,” Greenblatt added, noting NBC’s “unique position with a sister cable company.” “The OTT strategy is a competitive take on what cable business is. Whatever we do in that space, we want to make sure it’s not an affront to the cable space; we’re trying to craft something that is a good thing for them as well.” Discussions are ongoing and there will be a solution “in the near future.”
After the executive session, NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke indicated that the pending NBC OTT platform is one of the distribution options they are considering for the Cruel Intentions pilot, which remains in contention for a series pickup.
During the Turner executive session, TNT and TBS president Kevin Reilly urged other networks to adopt TNT’s strategy of reducing ad load by 50%.
Greenblatt was skeptical that he would be able to do that. “If you can reduce it, that’s great for the viewer. At the same time, I get a billion-plus dollars from this company to make programming, and somebody’s got to pay for it. Clearly it’s advertising that does the lion’s share of this,” he said. (To offset lost ad revenue, TNT’s model involves charging higher rates for ads in the shorter pods and relying on ratings upticks from the better viewer experience with fewer commercials.)
Greenblatt noted that “we always love to reduce the ad loads, we do it occasionally.” But overall, he suggested that reducing ad load on linear TV could be a moot point. “Anywhere from 30%-60% of viewing is done off the linear network, and in all those experiences — whether on set-top box or SVOD — there’s already a reduced ad load. So in a way, that’s kind of already happening. And you could say, ‘Well, that’s why people are gravitating to it and that’s OK as long as you’re monetizing it, and we’re getting better at that.”