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NBC Stations: Daytime a New Deal

Jan 8, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Steve Schwaid, senior VP of news and programming for NBC Universal Television Stations Division, is embracing a new philosophy: “There are no rules, it’s daytime television,” he said last week.

That may mean NBC-owned stations will start producing and sharing more programs along the lines of “iVillage Live,” the daytime series the group produces based on the corporate sibling property iVillage.com. Mr. Schwaid has given the second season of “iVillage” a “go” for next fall at a time when questions abound about the direction of NBC-owned-and-operated stations’ lineup.

Speculation continues to surface that “Today” will expand by another hour, that daytime soap “Passions” is being canceled and that the stations’ sibling division NBC Universal Television Distribution continues to waver on whether to launch a Monday-to-Friday syndicated version of the prime-time NBC hit “Deal or No Deal.”

Like many stations across the country, the NBC owned-and-operated outlets have faced viewership erosion in daytime in recent years in the face of increased competition for viewers and as a string of pricey syndicated shows failed to gain traction. Among the programs that haven’t worked out for the NBC stations in recent years: Sony’s “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” in 2000-01, NBC Universal’s “Jane Pauley” in 2004-05 and this season’s “The Megan Mullally Show,” which NBC Universal canceled last week.

An extra hour of “Today” could be a wash with an exit from “Passions” and the departure of “Megan” could open up holes on some NBC-owned station schedules for “Deal or No Deal” (“Megan” was only carried on four of the 10 owned stations). NBC Universal’s “Martha Stewart,” which airs on NBC O&Os, has been renewed.

Looking another year down the road, the group will also have to decide whether to renew Warner Bros.-distributed “Extra,” a prime access show in major markets that has paired well with NBC Universal’s own “Access Hollywood.”

“One of the greatest things about television is that we are fluid,” Mr. Schwaid said. “There are some things we can’t control but we are ready for that.”

It Takes iVillage

What Mr. Schwaid does control is the NBC station group’s programming choices for the future. While he aims to keep the new shows within the NBC brand, the genesis and production structure of new shows that the group takes on will be a bit different than their predecessors.

He confirmed that “iVillage Live,” the series based on NBC Universal’s iVillage platform and currently airing throughout the company’s O&Os, will continue for a second season.

“Stations have embraced the show, both as a local station project and as a group-wide series,” he said. “We are already receiving calls from stations outside the group wondering if they can pick up the show.”

After years of seeing expensive series hit the airwaves that have failed to become breakout hits, Mr. Schwaid said it was time to take costs under control.

“We started seeing real issues with daytime programming,” he said. “Every year another program would roll out and six months later it was dead. We were spending a phenomenal amount of money on license fees when the shows weren’t anything special. When a series becomes centric about one personality, even if they are working their butts off, it can be a great risk.”

“iVillage Live” was the result of this realization.

The interactive series airs as a weekday strip and is based on the female-targeted iVillage.com Web site the company bought last March for $600 million.

Making sure they utilized maximum use of all their platforms, the strip airs at noon on NBC Universal-owned cable channel Bravo as well as all 10 stations within the group, including those in the country’s top three markets, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. It’s also available at iVillageLive.com.

The series features Sissy Schaefer with co-hosts Molly Pesce and Guy Yovan, and contributors Naamua Delaney and Bob Oschack.

“We wanted to make sure this show was less about stars and personalities but also wanted it done at a realistic price,” Mr. Schwaid said. “We received a great realistic budget to get the show going as well as a strong synergy play. This meant that while in daytime it’s much more likely that you will have a failure for many shows, we knew right off the bat that we’ve already covered our costs and it fits the daytime schedule.”

The series, for the first four weeks on the air after launching Dec. 4, averaged a 0.6 rating/2 share in its 10 markets, including the top six. Although those numbers are down from the year-ago averages of other series, he noted that the economics worked more favorably for the company.

“Honestly, anything that gets between zero-point-something and a 1.4 gets the same value from an advertiser,” he said. “With `iVillage Live’ we don’t have to deal with high-budget license fees. This is the way to look at the future.”

Weekend Warriors

In keeping with the synergistic philosophy, the NBC-owned stations are turning to locally produced fare from sister stations for weekend programming. Among the series produced by NBC stations turning up in new places are New York’s “Real Talk,” as well as “In Wine Country” and “Tech Now” out of San Francisco.

“These shows can travel; in this day and age if you have stations in the group making great content, why not take advantage of that?” he said. “We are leveraging the strengths of our folks and it encourages the other stations in our group to make a swing themselves.”

Heading into the National Association of Television Program Executives conference this month, Mr. Schwaid is getting ready to move quickly once decisions finally come down from the network on series such as “Today” and “Passions.” He also noted there was no timeline on a decision about “Extra” and that stations would decide for themselves what programming to put on to replace “Megan.”

In the meantime, he said he’s keeping his eye on the future.

“A couple of weeks ago, [NBC Chairman and CEO] Bob Wright approached me and said to take swings, take chances and go for it,” Mr. Schwaid said. “We’re going to take those swings and that’s a great work environment to be in.”