NBC’s Bob Greenblatt on Program Ownership, Stacking Rights and Fall vs. Midseason

Stacking rights, streaming deals and skinny bundles have been the talk of the biz side of the TV biz for months as networks double down on efforts to better monetize costly scripted series.

The focus on controlling rights set the stage for tough series pickup negotiations this year as the broadcast upfronts approached, with nets pressuring outside studios for co-production pacts and streaming rights to all current-season episodes of a show. That’s the kind of “stacking” exposure on network-controlled platforms that Netflix and Amazon will discount when studios come to sell the off-network SVOD rights down the road, on the theory that the show is already widely exposed in the streaming arena.

In this context it’s notable that the two best launch pads on NBC’s fall schedule, as unveiled Sunday, went to shows that hail from outside studios. Sony Pictures TV’s time-travel drama “Timeless” landed the post-“Voice” Monday 10 p.m. slot. The Tuesday post-“Voice” 9 p.m. slot went to 20th Century Fox TV’s dramedy “This Is Us.”

That flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that the Big Four will instinctively favor shows from their sibling studio operations out of their zeal to have unfettered control of SVOD and international rights. However, “Timeless” did become a co-production with NBC’s Universal Television as soon as “The Voice” time slot (the berth that launched Sony TV’s “The Blacklist” three years ago) came into play.

NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt conceded that ownership concerns are a factor in decision making. But when push comes to shove, the best show wins, for the greater good of the entire schedule, he said.

“The world is a different place than it once was,” he said Sunday during a conference call with reporters. We take into consideration ownership issues and where (shows) are going on the schedule. … But were looking to have the best shows scheduled in the best place. If that advantages our own studio, that’s great. But we don’t want to do that to the detriment of the schedule.”

The network’s discussion with studio partners on stacking rights have been productive, Greenblatt said. For sure, there has been a general shift in the mind-set at the major media congloms that selling SVOD rights to shows so quickly might do more damage to the traditional TV eco-system than good for the bottom line boost to a studio from licensing coin.

Moreover, stacking rights and the industry’s new focus on skinny bundles as a pay TV alternative go hand-in-hand. The new breed of lower-cost streaming channel bundles need to include a robust VOD component — otherwise they have no hope of attracting the attention of consumers who have clearly demonstrated an appetite for time-shifting via streaming.

“Stacking is important to us,” Greenblatt said. “We’ve been able to work through successfully with the various studios on getting those stacking rights as we move forward. It’s kind of the order of the day. The studios know it. They’re protective of how exploited their shows are, but the world is moving in that direction gradually. We’ve had some really good progress on that front this season with our studios.”

NBC is adding just three new shows to its fall lineup — a sign of the stability the the Peacock is enjoying thanks to its “Chicago” troika of dramas from the Dick Wolf shop and the frosh season success of “Blindspot.” Greenblatt said that came as a welcome relief: “We just didn’t need to overturn the schedule and add new shows on every night and and change 15 time periods,” he said.

But NBC has another five dramas and four comedies on the bench for midseason. The light slate of new shows for the fall underscores how much the traditional broadcast season has been stretched to a year-round basis as a result of the explosion of competition from cable and streaming services.

The focus on fall as the big kickoff of the TV season began more than a half-century when the Big 3 automakers — television’s most influential advertisers, then and now — wanted a lot of hoopla to help them introduce next year’s car models. But viewing habits have changed so much that networks have to spread out their resources on a 52-week basis. Networks are also seeing a greater volume of shows coming on and off the air because so many series are opting for orders less than the 22-episode norm of the past — sometimes half as many episodes.

“We have as robust a midseason and summer schedule now as we do (in fall),” Greenblatt said. “From January on through the rest of the summer there is no shortage of really extraordinary things we’re also going to be rolling out.”

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