Beth Comstock’s profile mushroomed in December 2005, when she was named president of NBC Universal Digital Media and Market Development, reporting directly to NBCU Chairman and CEO Bob Wright. Previously, she had been best known internally at NBC for her communications skills, and at parent company General Electric, where she segued from communications to marketing.
In the past year, her days have been a blur as she worked to make sense of and progress with NBCU’s heretofore erratic and uncoordinated digital initiatives.
The milestones have ranged from the de-Balkanization of media players on NBCU’s assorted Web sites to the $600 million acquisition of iVillage. The decade-old women’s portal is getting an injection of attention and online revenue with “Today” show tie-ins, the recent debut of “iVillage Live”-a weekday show on NBCU-owned stations-and plans for further improvements.
Katie Couric and Sean McManus
For much of the past year, there were perhaps no two big TV names and fortunes so inextricably linked as those of CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus and “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric.
Mr. McManus, who had painstakingly lifted CBS Sports from third to first place, was asked to do the same for CBS News in December 2005. He was joining an exclusive club that includes the late Roone Arledge, whose success as president of ABC Sports earned him the duty of ABC News president.
In the year since Mr. McManus and Ms. Couric were named two of TelevisionWeek’s 12 to Watch, Mr. McManus has restocked the long-entrenched CBS News management ranks with people of his choice.
He rebuilt “CBS Evening News” to showcase Ms. Couric, NBC’s longtime “Today” co-anchor, who changed networks to make flagship newscast history and $15 million per year as a solo female anchor.
Mr. McManus added some new touches to CBS News, such as an investigative unit feeding “Evening News,” a customizable CBS News theme song written by “Titanic” composer James Horner, and a unified graphics package for all hard news programs.
Ms. Couric debuted to some 13 million viewers and has since dropped back to third place-but an improved third place, if her season-to-date average is compared with the same stretch the year before. After launching with a soft newscast, Ms. Couric has aimed for more news in the mix with the features she likes.
The most identifiable concession to critics has been the effective disappearance of the “freeSpeech” segment that mostly featured people who already have easy access to the public microphone.
Mr. McManus maintains that he is comfortable with Ms. Couric’s performance, but he has recently expressed disappointment with the apparent reluctance of the American public to accept a female anchor.
Recently, Mr. McManus’ attention has turned to “The Early Show,” which also is riding in an improved third place.
Terry Denson and his team at Verizon’s FiOS TV continued to add programming to the telco’s video offering.
In the past year, Mr. Denson concluded a negotiation with competitor Comcast Corp. that put Comcast’s regional sports networks on FiOS. Similar agreements were reached with other cable operators. FiOs also made a deal to put live games from the NFL network on its expanded basic tier. As part of a separate agreement, those games are also available on FiOS’s broadband platforms.
By the end of 2006, FiOS subscribers had access to 5,000 on demand titles, second only to Comcast.
With 400 total channels available, Verizon says it is seeing strong customer demand for FiOS, which added 106 New Jersey communities to its service area earlier this month.
After a rough start in 2005, Google Video smoothed out its relationships last year with content owners. The site has featured TV shows from MTV, Nickelodeon, Fox, CBS and other networks. Google has also struck deals with music labels in an effort to make nice with copyrights holders for music. In August, Google extended its video expertise into online video syndication via a deal to syndicate clips from MTV Networks to hundreds of Web sites in the Google AdSense Network. Google also purchased YouTube in the fall for $1.65 billion. Ms. Feikin has been instrumental in the development of Google Video, but David Eun, VP of content partnerships, has also taken on a larger role. In January 2006 Google Video attracted 5.8 million unique visitors and 19.2 million in Nov. 2006, according to Nielsen Net Ratings.
As president of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting, Mr. Liguori shepherded the network to another ratings victory last year, triumphing over a newly resurgent ABC. Medical drama “House” gained critical and ratings steam, becoming one of the top dramas on television.
But Fox also had another disappointing fall, with its new slate failing to catch fire and Major League Baseball continuing to be a drag on Fox’s fourth-quarter ticket. Plans to recoup some viewers by airing a quasi-confessional interview with O.J. Simpson during November sweeps proved disastrous when the public and affiliates rebelled.
Now Fox is once again on the “American Idol”-fueled fast track, with plans to premiere new scripted programming this spring in an effort to find shows that the network can roll into the fall.
Federal Communication Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin has been increasingly caught up in big debates. His attempt to rein in broadcasters on indecency, while popular on Capitol Hill, has landed the FCC in court with suits from broadcasters. His push to give consumers more power by letting them make a la carte choices of which cable networks they receive has foundered, stymied by an inability to get the required 3 votes FCC votes to mandate it.
He’s moved to speed the way for phone and power companies to get licenses to provide cable from cities, prompting the cities to threaten suit. Finally he’s moved forward carefully with a court-ordered reexamination of media ownership rules, but still has four public hearings ahead and under pressure from Democrats, agreed to finish the FCC’s long delayed study of the impact of having local ownership before offering new rules.
Syndication’s ray of sunshine surpassed expectations in 2006 as Rachael Ray cleaned up not only with her new television series but also at the bookstores.
King World unveiled talk show strip “Rachael Ray” last September amid loud fanfare and, even better, Oprah Winfrey’s backing. The result was the highest-rated syndication debut in years, with the series averaging a 2.1 rating this season, more than a full point above the rest of the freshman class. The series has been renewed from its original two-year agreement with an additional two years, guaranteeing at least a four-year run for the show. Earlier this month Ms. Ray was named TelevisionWeek’s Syndication Personality of the Year for her success in the genre.
The entrepreneur cook also released “Rachael Ray Express Lane Meals,” which debuted at No. 3 on USA Today’s Best-Selling Books List in April; she put out her 16th book, “2, 4, 6, 8: Great Meals for Couples or Crowds,” in November.
The biggest news from TiVo in the last year is that the company is still around and it has still failed to take off in a major way. That’s been the fine line between failure and success that TiVo has walked since it was founded in 1997. The company introduced its TiVoCast technology last summer to bring broadband content to the TV. About 500,000 of TiVo’s 4.6 million subscribers use the service, so it hasn’t been a blockbuster hit. But the company’s partnership to integrate its technology into Comcast set-top boxes has begun. Comcast is beta testing the boxes and expects to deploy commercially in several markets this year. That means yet another reprieve for TiVo.
It was a tough year for Mark Rosenthal. He underwent
treatment for cancer and before he could return from medical leave, Interpublic Media, the unit of which he was chairman and CEO, was dissolved by parent company Interpublic Group of Cos.
Late last year, Interpublic continued to dismantle part of its centralized media business, opting instead to push as much as possible into its main ad buying networks, Universal McCann and Initiative. The company pulled the plug on its Consumer Experience Practice in a move its president, Stacey Lynn Koerner called a cost-cutting move. Ms. Koerner said she opted to leave the company rather than accept another post at Interpublic.
While Jeff Shell might not have scored a touchdown and landed rights to NFL football games for Comcast’s OLN network, he still put a lot of points on the scoreboard as president of the cable operator’s programming group.
Mr. Shell re-launched OLN as Versus to emphasize the competitive aspects of its programming, which includes NHL hockey in addition to Tour de France and Professional Bull Riding. Meanwhile Golf Channel became the home of the PGA Tour.
He also oversaw a re-focusing of E! Entertainment on its red-carpet roots with the addition of Ryan Seacrest as host and anchor of “E! News Live.” Both E! and its style offshoot saw their ratings rise during the year, as did G4, another Comcast Network.
One of Mr. Shell’s goals was to launch non-linear networks and on Halloween, Comcast, working with Sony Pictures, launched FearNet, a network featuring horror films that can be seen on demand.
Last year, as Howard Stern moved his terrestrial morning radio program to a subscription-based satellite model with Sirius, he similarly moved the televised version of the show from E! to a video-on-demand format.
The resulting “Howard TV” package on InDemand Networks (the subsidiary of a conglomerate of cable operators) was the first major original series to air exclusively in VOD.
How has he fared? Tough to say, because InDemand does not release its subscription figures. But the company’s insistence on keeping the figures private-a position also taken by InDemand co-owner Comcast-suggests that not many fans are willing to pay $13.99 to see the show. Also, so far, few have followed Mr. Stern’s lead and launched series via a VOD subscription.