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NBCE Happy With Its Position

Mar 31, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Access Hollywood could soon be covering some new aspects of Tinseltown. Sources say that NBC Enterprises is in negotiations to expand the brand of the growing newsmagazine strip, with company executives in negotiations with ESPN and the Game Show Network to add new formats of the series.
“Our ratings are going up because the distribution keeps getting better. That gives us reach, which helps brand identity,” said Ed Wilson, president of NBC Enterprises. “Now we have to protect what we’ve worked for and ensure that the brand is cared for correctly to keep the momentum running.”
Aside from red-carpet specials, the distributor is in talks with ESPN to create a version of Access that focuses on sports, its celebrities and their ties with Hollywood, according to insiders. In addition, the Game Show Network could soon see its own version of the show. While archrival Entertainment Tonight has so far gone inward by developing spinoff series for fellow Viacom outlets MTV and VH1, Access Hollywood looks to be finding outside partners for its forays, although a series on new-acquisition Bravo is not out of the question.
The potential format expansions are the latest in a number of recent moves from the distributor to find new revenue streams with its library. With merchandise from DVDs, books and music CDs forming new revenue platforms, the NBC division that once handled series such as Little House on the Prairie and Bonanza is now looking to the bigger picture as the network’s entrepreneurial arm prepares to enter its third year as NBC Enterprises.
“Our company is really committed to making our projects work, because, frankly, if we fail we fail not only at Enterprises but also on the station side,” Mr. Wilson said. “So we have to rely on the best thing we have going for us to make this work, the group of people we’ve put together.”
Mr. Wilson noted that while the young company has not yet developed a breakout strip such as Dr. Phil, NBC Enterprises has cemented a foundation through development and acquisitions that will keep the company in the forefront of syndie sales. In addition, the distributor will soon benefit from upcoming off-net series launches from the network. First to come will likely be Ed, set for syndication in the 2004-05 season, followed by Crossing Jordan, which starts airing on A&E in the 2004-05 season, and Boomtown, set for 2006.
Among its highest-profile first-run series, the syndicator saw The John Walsh Show launch last fall to continued growth, The Chris Matthews Show become a hit on weekends and acquisition Access Hollywood continue to grow as a brand. The Other Half and Weakest Link aired for two seasons but were not picked up for this fall.
“John Walsh is the platinum card of booking,” said Linda Finnell, senior VP of programming at the company. “We are getting guests that don’t want to go anywhere else and that is being shown in the show’s ratings growth. John has become much more comfortable with the format and has a greater understanding of what goes into making the show work than he did last fall. He’s only beginning to hit his groove.”
Meanwhile, advertisers are lapping up upcoming reality strip Starting Over, which has now been sold to stations covering more than 70 percent of the United States for its fall 2003 debut. Starting Over is from Bunim/Murray Productions, the producers of the long-running reality series The Real World and Road Rules. Earlier this year, the series was sold to the NBC owned-and-operated stations as well as stations from Hearst-Argyle.
“Obviously they have a number of situations on the plus side, and have to be particularly pleased with how Chris Matthews has been able to establish himself across the board,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming at rep firm Katz Television Group. “Now, NBC has to look at the future because in order to break through to the next level they need that breakout hit. Clearly their next entry, Starting Over, has potential. They are the first to look at reality television on a massive scale in daytime and it’s not unlikely that after the success of reality in prime time this series will be successful in daytime, especially since they have two of the genre’s top producers.”
Mr. Wilson credits his alliance with the Hearst-Argyle and Gannett station groups as a large part of the development process. The deal was completed in December 2000 as part of a distribution and development agreement that gives series a potential 60 percent clearance.
The partnership appears to be working. NBC has sold Hearst stations series ranging from The John Walsh Show to Access Hollywood to The Chris Matthews Show. According to Emerson Coleman, VP, programming, Hearst-Argyle Television, the partnership has been beneficial for all parties.
“Ed’s done a remarkable job building this up in such a short amount of time,” Mr. Coleman said. “We share the same philosophy of trying to find the right product, and that’s going to grow franchises in the future.
However, a side of the business that has surprised even some company executives has been revenue from its licensing and merchandising divisions. Publishing, music, licensing and DVDs have all provided juicy revenue for the company. Among the projects coming soon could be slot machines based on Saturday Night Live, soundtracks for Crossing Jordan and American Dreams, season one of Will and Grace on DVD and a Today Show retrospective book.
That success has not gone unnoticed by upper NBC brass. NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker noted that the additional revenue streams were important.
“They’ve built a business from scratch and gone into projects and warehouses and garages and uncovered treasure troves for us,” he said. “Really, it’s a pretty amazing accomplishment to see how far they’ve come in just over two years. Ed Wilson had to build it from the ground up and is now a major player. Now I expect them to continue to grow their business the way they’ve done and find successful new original programming that will keep NBC on top for years to come.”