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NBC Drops the Torch

by Kevin O'Keeffe | Loyola Marymount University

F Posted in: Sports and Culture, Voices P Posted on: August 6, 2012
Kevin o'keeffe Kevin O'Keeffe

There’s been a great deal of discussion since the 2012 Summer Olympics began about NBC’s broadcasting strategies, namely the tape delaying of events until primetime and some ill-advised promos spoiling results for the audience. #NBCFail is a common hashtag across the Twittersphere, and critics aren’t being kind to the network either.

In a conference call interview with reporters last Thursday, NBC executives Mark Lazarus and Alan Wurtzel fired back with claims that audiences don’t care about being spoiled and that the complaints weren’t representative of the viewing audience.

“We think it’s a very loud minority,” Lazarus said at the time.

Wurtzel also quoted a survey – that was taken by NBC, it should be noted – that 67 percent of viewers who knew the results ahead of time still planned on watching. Yet despite their defensive stance, they also apologized for a promo for The Today Show that spoiled results.

Clearly, NBC is in full circle-the-wagons mode, attempting to appease those who are angry but also defend themselves against the hordes of critics. What NBC executives don’t realize, however, is that the audience’s perception that they have botched the Olympics could prove to be the final nail in the Peacock Network’s coffin.

It’s no secret that NBC is suffering. They have been since the turn of the millennium, when the network’s absolute dominance in the ratings came to a screeching halt. As ratings behemoths like Friends ended, new shows leaned towards quirky critical darlings like Community and 30 Rock. Combined with a failure to produce buzzy dramas (gone were the days of ER and The West Wing), NBC primetime was hardly Must-See TV anymore.

Even in the face of slipping ratings in primetime, however, NBC was still dominant in two key areas: their morning programming and their late-night programming. Then, in 2009, NBC lost control of late night. Their long-planned transition in hosts of The Tonight Show – five years earlier, a deal was struck that Conan O’Brien would take the chair from Jay Leno – blew up in NBC executives’ faces as they struggled to have their cake and eat it, too. Leno was moved into a low-rated primetime talk show, while O’Brien struggled in the new, earlier timeslot. After attempting to move Leno’s show back to late night but before Tonight, O’Brien publicly stated that he wasn’t going to tolerate such a move, and he eventually parted ways with the network on incredibly bad terms. Leno took over Tonight once again, but the show’s ratings were much lower than before.

Fast-forward to 2011, when The Today Show’s beloved co-host Meredith Viera chose to leave, turning her chair over to less-beloved former news anchor Ann Curry. For a year, Curry struggled to connect not only with the audience, but with her co-host, Matt Lauer. In April of 2012, Today Show rival Good Morning America won the ratings battle by 31,000 viewers, breaking Today’s 16-year long winning streak. When Lauer renewed his contract, there were rumors that he had signed on again with the express wish for a new co-host. Sure enough, about two months later, Curry was ousted and new co-host Savannah Guthrie brought in. Adding insult to injury: in Guthrie’s first week, Good Morning America won the ratings battle again.

So it’s clear that NBC is now hurting in all aspects. Even where it formerly appeared invincible, the network has been proven mortal time and time again. The one thing that NBC can boast, however, is being the exclusive network of the Olympics. Every other year, NBC executives get hours and hours of advertising time to hype their new shows and boost old properties, all while America tunes in compulsively to watch superior athletes compete.

Right now, to get back on top, NBC would need a miracle – something that would force millions of Americans to do nothing but be exposed to their network for hours on end. Sound familiar?

It goes without saying that Americans would watch the Olympics no matter what channel they aired on, so NBC can’t really do much to lose ratings no matter how badly they butcher coverage. However, by irritating the audience, the only thing NBC is succeeding in doing is making sure their new shows won’t benefit from the endless advertising. Since NBC can’t even use their miracle to their own advantage, a resurrection for the former king network might simply be impossible.

Kevin O'Keeffe Kevin O'Keeffe Born in San Antonio, Texas, raised in Austin, Texas, and now going to school in Los Angeles, California at Loyola Marymount University. Screenwriting major. Managing editor for the Los Angeles Loyolan. Follow me at @kokeeffe22 on Twitter.

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