Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Is What's Good for Leno Good for NBC?

Though the tagline in this journal claims that content relating to television will be presented, I don’t believe I have yet to post anything on the subject. Perhaps that is because I happen to be much more interested in television as a business rather than any specific content aired, and that doesn’t seem to come up all that much in the reading I do.

Yet this evening when I finally got around to reading the news, I was surprised to see that NBC is planning to sign Jay Leno to host a show much like The Tonight Show to air at 10/9pm each weekday evening. Ab
out five years ago, the network announced that they would move Conan O’Brien into the late night slot in 2009 in an effort to retain him. He had already been offered incredible amounts of money to jump ship, and his popularity with young people meant that as they got older they’d likely prefer to watch his brand of humor over that of older comedians like Leno and David Letterman.

Of course, the issue is more complicated than that. Leno is a longtime ratings king in the 11:30/10:30 slot, so ousting him was not necessarily the best short-term business move. Rumors swirled that he could hop over to ABC and replace Nightline or sign a syndicated deal with Sony for $30 million a year and try to get picked up by a lot of Fox and independent stations ala Arsenio Hall. This move by NBC allows them to hang onto Leno and thus not alienate his fanbase too much nor allow him to become the competition.

One also would expect that with off-color humor popularized on shows like Family Guy becoming the norm, the content of both Leno’s new show and O’Brien’s move to earlier shouldn’t affect their shows too much. This is of course dependent on the audience differences between the timeslots, a trend that will be interesting to track over the coming year.

While I am no longer a fan of these types of shows, I have been fascinated about the business side since reading Bill Carter’s The Late Shift and later Desperate Networks. I would imagine in another few years as television continues t change the way it presents content, Carter would have plenty of material for another book. With the emergence of sites like, NBC will now have more content with which to generate revenue online. Many more people will likely watch a five-minute clip of Leno’s new show than will watch a forty-two minute episode of Law and Order.

This also will save huge costs for NBC. Rather than generating an additional five hours of programming a week, usually costing about $3 million per episode, they essentially will only have two hours of content to generate on weeknights. That’s save them around $13 million per week, and eliminate weeks of reruns over the summer when Leno is producing new content.

Though my analysis here may be a bit staid, this is the sort of change in the way networks are doing business that is of great interest to people who pay attention to media. Perhaps we will see more content along these lines as the Fall 2009 television season begins to take shape.

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