NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke says it’s time for networks to abandon the traditional 35-week September-through-May TV season and to start programming year-round — and being judged by their year-round performance.
He also said networks’ success should be gauged by their viewership in the key 18-49 demographic, no matter how people watch their shows, including on DVR. Every network has struggled to get viewers to watch shows in real time, and Burke said it’s time to acknowledge that that’s not how many people watch television.
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“We think that having broadcast be a 35-week season is an anachronism,” he told reporters at a roundtable at NBC headquarters in New York on Monday. “We live in a completely different time now.”
He said reporters should focus on 18-49 viewers, the figure most important to advertisers, rather than total viewers.
“If I were a consumer I’d want to know who won the football game, not who got the most yards,” he said.
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Burke said NBC has spoken with other networks and believes they will also adopt a year-round schedule.
Fox chief Kevin Reilly has already called for year-round programming, and this year declared an end to the traditional calendar for greenlighting shows. Fox plans this year to unveil one of its biggest shows, “24: Live Another Day,” in May, and last summer CBS began airing “Under the Dome” in June. NBC is airing six scripted shows this summer, more than any broadcast network in 21 years.
NBC entertainment president Bob Greenblatt has emphasized more summer programming since he took the job in 2011. But NBC was in fourth place when he joined, and the network didn’t want to call for a year-round season at the time because it didn’t want to appear to be trying to change the rules because it was losing the game
So it has waited until now, when it is in first place in the key demo, to call for the change.
NBC executives said NBC was losing a “nine-digit” figure each year — at least $100 million a year — from viewers who watch shows on a format other than TV, such as a phone or tablet. Other networks have the same complaint, and all have called for better tracking of those viewers.
Burke likened the situation to running a store bedeviled by shoplifters, and said the situation needs to change.
NBC president of ad sales Linda Yaccarino said the network, like CBS, hopes to sell to advertisers next season based on the ratings for ads over seven days. They currently buy most advertising based on the ratings of ads over three days.
The seven-day system (called C7, rather than the three-day system, C3) recognizes the number of viewers who watch shows on DVR, well after they air.
Yaccarino said advertisers have been open to the discussion.
He said Leno told NBC he “wanted to do the best handoff we’ve ever done” and succeeded. Reminding reporters that past transitions haven’t gone so well, he added, “This handoff couldn’t have been more graceful.”