NBCU’s Wright Addresses Digital Future

Sep 25, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Elizabeth Jensen

Special to TVWeek

NBC Universal Chairman and CEO Bob Wright hopes that within 12 months his company is booking $400 million to $500 million in digital advertising, has a number of integrated broadcast and digital program ventures, and is offering movies in many countries via digital delivery.

Separately, he deflected recent news reports that he may be planning to leave the company in the near future, quipping that he could be around for another 15 years. Mr. Wright is celebrating his 20-year anniversary at NBC Universal.

Mr. Wright, interviewed by TVWeek Publisher and Editorial Director Chuck Ross as part of Advertising Week events in New York, said NBC Universal is trying to “sort out the real consumer application” of all the digital opportunities bearing down on the television industry.

NBC Universal’s multiple television operations reflect the variety of businesses Mr. Wright has to guide into a digital future.

NBC Universal’s recent acquisition of iVillage, an Internet site targeting women, was in part based on the overlap between the site’s users and viewers of the “Today” morning show on NBC, Mr. Wright said. He said the company has high expectations for a “full-tilt experiment” it is launching to integrate iVillage content into a TV show for NBC owned and operated stations.

Audience enthusiasm to participate in shows such as NBC’s “Deal or No Deal” has generated some 50 million unique callers since spring from fans eager to express their opinions, Mr. Wright said.

“It’s crazy for us to deny that interest because it is very, very strong,” he said.

NBCU’s USA Network hasn’t generated as much audience involvement and the network hasn’t yet figured out why, he said.

As viewers continue to embrace time-shifting technology that allows them to skip traditional ads, Mr. Wright predicted that eventually broadcasters will carry “smaller pods, and fewer commercials, spaced differently.”

As for TiVo, in which NBC Universal is still an investor, Mr. Wright said the company needs to decide whether it wants to be “an operating company or a licensing company.”

Mr. Wright also predicted that both TV and film production and marketing costs will come down in the next 18 months, now that DVD penetration has leveled off, piracy issues have raised costs and syndication revenues for TV shows are not as big a factor as they were.

On the programming front, Mr. Wright said the company was pleased with how both “NBC Nightly News” and “Today” have held up in the wake of Katie Couric’s defection to the “CBS Evening News.” He called the primetime drama “Studio 60,” which opened last week to moderate ratings, “a big-time show and we want it to do well. We’d be very disappointed if it doesn’t do well.”