By Lee Alan Hill
Special to TelevisionWeek
“Access Hollywood” was conceived more than a decade ago as a show exclusively for NBC stations, and though it now runs on stations affiliated with all networks as well as the 14 NBC owned-and-operated stations, it has fulfilled its mission, said Jay Ireland, president of NBC Universal Television Stations.
“It’s a very valued show for us,” Mr. Ireland said. “It runs at 7:30 in more than half its markets and provides what we wanted-a lead-in for prime time with 18- to 49-year-old adults. It is true that as a network NBC has had a dip at 8 p.m. during the past few seasons, but that does not negate that ‘Access Hollywood’ is a good lead-in.”
Supervising producer Mike Marson agreed.
“When NBC had ‘Friends’ we got the audience before that show came on,” he said. “NBC’s problems at 8 p.m. affect us. The audience flow works both ways, but it’s cyclical and will pick up.”
“Access Hollywood” remains a moneymaker. According to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, the series brought in $80 million in ad revenues for national sales in 2004, and local sales on the NBC O&Os would add $20 million to that figure. NBC will not provide details on the show’s profitability to the network or on the station level, but there is no question the network is pleased.
“When I report on the ledger to GE [General Electric, NBC Universal’s parent company], I don’t separate the show from the station figures,” said Frederick Huntsberry, executive VP of NBC Universal Television Distribution. “The figure is good.”
The 14 O&Os that air “Access Hollywood” represent 30 percent of the country, including most of the top 10 markets, giving NBC a good base, Mr. Ireland said. Only in the Central time zone, where the access time period is only a half-hour, does the show not air in that period on NBC’s O&Os.
Of the stations that run the show, the number that run it in access, usually at 7:30 p.m., is approaching 60 percent. Most of the rest of the stations run the show in early fringe, though a few of the approximately 200 stations that carry the show air it during daytime and a handful offer it in late fringe against such competition as NBC’s own “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”
“Very important is that the show is multipurpose in the marketplace,” Mr. Ireland said. “And not just for what it brings in ratings and ad sales and lead-in. Buying the show means the station gains coverage of entertainment events for its entire news lineup, and this brings us added credibility as a news show and as a source.”
Stations that buy “Access Hollywood” do get the added coverage, which includes an “Access Minute” that can run in their own newscasts, usually during the 5-6 p.m. hour.
The “Minute” can include news briefs about celebrities or events taking place in the film, TV and music worlds, or it can be tied in to events such as the major award shows. The spots are hosted by any of the anchors or correspondents from the show.
“That’s a tremendous selling point for us,” Mr. Ireland said, “and a tremendous advantage for the stations. Entertainment news is very popular among the audiences, particularly the 18 to 49 adults.”
The importance of “Access Hollywood” as a program created and produced for the stations plays into its content. Mr. Ireland said that one of the prime reasons the series began to do more coverage of fashion-related stories was because the stations requested it. Similarly, they pressed for more coverage from New York above and beyond Fashion Week.
Mr. Ireland is credited with recommending Billy Bush as the first full-time New York correspondent for the show, back in 2001. Mr. Bush is now a co-anchor based in Hollywood, with Tim Vincent assuming the New York correspondent duties this past January.
Long term, the business plan for the show is geared toward increasing the percentage of the stations that air the series in prime access.
“In hand-to-hand combat with our competitors, we beat them,” said Barry Wallach, president of NBC Universal Domestic TV Distribution. “As we look to the future we want to bring the number of stations airing the show in the access time period to 60 percent.
“The difficulty we’ve had in increasing that figure is the longevity of the series that run during that time period,” he said. “The windows of opportunity do not happen every day.”
Mr. Wallach insists that the plan to expand stations in prime access is doable. “The 18- to 49-year-old audience does not favor watching game shows,” he said. And he believes that the audience has an enduring and growing interest in the coverage of showbiz that will serve “Access” well in the long run.
“We are aware that in entertainment news we take ‘Entertainment Tonight’ in the larger markets but lose to it in the smaller markets. That show is still on top, no question. It has a legacy and it has 15 years on us in building that legacy. But we’ve proven ourselves in our 10 years and have our own legacy now. As time passes, we believe their advantage will fade.”