A localizable prime-access fringe Olympics magazine show and increased interaction between NBC News and local news producers and executives are among the commitments that emerged from a daylong meeting between NBC executives and the NBC affiliates advisory board last week in New York.
The emotional highlight of the day of presentations by network executives was the appearance Wednesday of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics Chairman Dick Ebersol, who received a standing ovation from the group. Mr. Ebersol returned to work Tuesday for the first time since Nov. 28, when he and son Charlie were injured in charter jet crash in Colorado that killed his teenage son Teddy.
Mr. Ebersol’s remarks included a fond remembrance of longtime “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson, who died Jan. 23. Despite Mr. Carson’s failing health, he called Mr. Ebersol after the plane crash.
Mr. Ebersol has been involved in the development effort-led by Olympics Executive VP Gary Zenkel-of “The Olympics Zone,” a half-hour magazine show that will be formatted to allow the integration of local talent and segments. It is expected to run as a lead-in to prime-time Olympics coverage on 15 of 17 nights of the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. To help maximize the cross-promotion and branding, “The Olympics Zone” also will become the name of the affiliates’ localized Web pages that debuted as the O-Zone on NBCOlympics.com for the 2004 Summer Olympics.
“We as affiliates had a good experience [with the Athens Olympics options],” said Terry Mackin, the Hearst-Argyle Television executive who is chairman of the NBC affiliates board. “Our expectation is that [Turin] will be better than Athens, and Beijing [in 2008] will be better than [Turin].”
The localized Olympics online opportunities were the first project to debut after being hatched and nurtured by the NBC Affiliate Futures Committee under the co-chairmanship of Mr. Mackin and NBC Universal Executive VP Brandon Burgess.
The second futures committee baby is NBC Weather Plus, the all-digital, 24/7 local weather network that was announced a year ago and that began rolling out four months ago. The list of Weather Plus affiliates has grown to 50 stations, reaching 67 percent of the country.
Wireless applications and a Weather Plus Web site were identified as possibilities by Mr. Mackin after the affiliate board meeting, which was described as “very productive.”
However, neither Mr. Mackin nor Mr. Burgess would speak about what projects might now be in the futures committee pipeline.
Mr. Burgess said that at midyear or later this year the group will check to see “what appetites are.”
One outreach project by NBC News President Neal Shapiro, an advisory board made up of a handful of local news executives, began within the past two months. The idea is to discuss issues ranging from NBC News programs to topics that might make good series.
“NBC Nightly News” this summer also will begin inviting local news producers to spend two or three weeks in the “Nightly” newsroom to see how the network does things and perhaps to offer their perspective. The network is footing the bill.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to work so closely with the president of a network news operation,” said Mr. Mackin. “We see this as a great opportunity.”
Although NBC’s prime-time lineup is struggling this season, Mr. Mackin said affiliates “like that the 10 o’clock position is strong” as a lead-in for late local newscasts and believe that “there are better things to come.”