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NBC Chiefs Talk ‘Bespoke’ Streaming Plans, Ratings Frustration and Their ‘Odd Couple’ Partnership

Picture by Vaughn Ridley/SWpix.com - 23/01/2019
Vaughn Ridley/SWpix.com

MIAMI — Newly appointed NBC Entertainment co-chairmen George Cheeks and Paul Telegdy are optimists at heart, but they’re realistic about the challenges that broadcast networks face in an industry that is becoming increasingly global and increasingly mobile.

“We have to evolve,” Cheeks said Wednesday at the NATPE convention here as he and Teledgy held their first sit-down interview since being tapped to succeed Bob Greenblatt as head of NBC Entertainment in September. “We’re not going to reset audience patterns. We can’t say to viewers ‘You can only watch this Thursday at 8 o’clock.’ That’s not the model any more.”

In a wide-ranging Q&A with journalist Soledad O’Brien, Telegdy and Cheeks weighed in on the first few months of their partnership as co-leaders of NBC’s entertainment programming and the Universal Television scripted and unscripted studio operations. Telegdy, previously NBC’s head of alternative programming, quipped that he was preparing a new reality show “90-Day Chairman.”

Telegdy succinctly stated the pair’s focus as they pilot the network through turbulent times: Create hit shows that take advantage of broadcast TV’s ubiquity.

“If we made big hits that people love, the reach and relevance will carry us through and smart people will figure out how to turn that into money as well,” Telegdy said.

Cheeks said the NBC operation is encouraged by the parent company’s push to launch an advertising-supported streaming service in 2020 that will give a wireless platform to the Peacock and other NBCU-owned cablers. It makes sense for NBC to go a different route than its largest competitors.

“We all believe that Netflix-chasing is not a strategy,” Cheeks said. “We’re excited and bullish about where this is headed.”

Telegdy was also blunt about NBC embracing an ad-based model: “As a company, we love advertising. We’re not ashamed to say it.” Cheeks said the key would be to find innovative and less obtrusive ways to deliver those sponsor messages.

“There’s a lot of movement to being more sensitive to the user experience,” he said. “I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity in that space.” 

To the question of whether NBC plans with hold back some of its content from outside streaming platforms, Cheeks said it would be a show-by-show decision. The Universal Television studio has shows set up at Netflix, Apple, and other outside outlets.

“Our strategy is a bit more nuanced and bespoke,” Cheeks said. said. “We look at every show and decide where does this show belong. Should it be exclusive in our eco-system or can it be outside of it.”

Among other highlights of the 30-minute conversation:

Cheeks voiced his frustration with the state of ratings measurement and the lack of a uniform system for capturing viewership across multiple platforms. “We’ve been talking about this for a long time. It really needs to get resolved — it’s mission critical for our business.”

The pair nodded to the “arm’s race” for talent and top content. Telegdy said NBC’s selling point against the digital behemoths that are offering enormous deals to talent is the potential for longevity and true back-end participation in their programs. “I would partner with us if you want big checks over a long period of time,” Telegdy said.

Telegdy added that the influx of money, talent and sky-high production values for TV shows has been a good thing for the entertainment industry overall even if it’s been challenging for old-guard networks like NBC. “There’s an enormous amount of money in the system to make tv shows. If that’s what we all do — it’s happy days.”

O’Brien pressed the pair on how they were managing their partnership as leaders of NBC. “We literally could not be more different — it’s casting 101 as an ‘Odd Couple,’ “said Cheeks, who was formerly co-president of Universal Cable Productions and president of late-night programming. He said the two have “different ways of looking at things,” which has been helpful as they face a lot of difficult decisions in a fast-changing marketplace. “It’s not really a question of I’m the business guy and he’s the creative guy. My first job in the business was in casting, and (Telegdy’s) worked in business affairs. … Four months in, it’s truly been good.”

(Pictured: Soledad O’Brien, George Cheeks, Paul Telegdy)