According to a person familiar with the situation, Comcast-owned NBCU has had internal discussions for a number of years and no firm decision has been made. Given the complex web of agreements with affiliates and advertisers, a move could take a year at the earliest.
“We are always looking at strategies to ensure our broadcasting business remains as strong as possible,” an NBC spokesman said in a statement provided to Deadline. “As a company, our advantage lies in our ability to bring audiences the content they love across broadcast, cable and streaming.”
ABC, CBS, and NBC have each offered at least three hours of national primetime programming for decades. As newer contenders like Fox and the CW emerged, they earned many an asterisk from industry watchers for only programming two hours a night. Until a few years ago, the CW also didn’t air on Saturday nights, and then more recently, it went full seven days a week by programming on Sundays, although the quota is still two hours a night, as is the case with Fox.
Nightly broadcast schedules for broadcast networks, particularly the legacy Big Three, have already begun to reflect the changing times. Live sports and unscripted fare have started to dominate the grid due to the difficulty of launching and sustaining popular shows, largely based on their popularity on linear television. Rights for the sport have surged, however, and NBCU has a chunk up for the NFL and college Big Ten conference. These offers include stipulations for live games shown only in streaming, another sign of the times.
Reducing the obligation to broadcast prime time would ease the financial pressure NBC Universal in terms of funding a linear offering at a time when viewership and pay-TV subscriptions continue to fall. Increasingly, companies like NBCU are looking at their entire portfolios, across streaming, linear and other platforms, and steering towards what they see as the most profitable outcomes. The long-established practice of investing in pilots and then taping some of them into series is already beginning to crumble as full-season greenlights have become commonplace during the streaming era.
The reshuffle of NBCU management has shown the strategic direction of things, with longtime sports veteran Mark Lazarus now serving as chairman of NBCUniversal Television and Streaming. Peacock, the streaming service launched by NBCU two years ago, generated more than $1 billion in advertising revenue from its upfront market sales, the company estimates. The boundaries between broadcast, cable and streaming are increasingly blurring in terms of their respective programming strategies.
While local television Companies face a number of challenges similar to those of broadcast and cable network operators, the broadcasters have experienced a windfall in political advertising. News programming, which has supplanted syndicated tariffs at many stations in recent years, is cheaper to produce and has proven reliable ratings in many markets, particularly as newspapers and radio stations have declined.
Nexstar Media Group, the #1 local TV station owner, recently completed the acquisition of CWwhich provides another intersection between the local and national TV sectors.
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the recent NBC deliberations.
A scenario after diarywhen NBC cancels the third hour of prime time would shift The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon earlier every night. Execs said in 2020 that Peacock Premium, the streaming outlet’s subscription tier, would offer early access to both shows during prime time. The move, which initially caused consternation from some NBC affiliates, has been put on hold indefinitely due to Covid and other factors, Peacock executives said.