After decades spent fighting TV’s never-ending battle for morning-news dominance, NBC’s “Today” is launching a salvo on another front: Hollywood’s streaming wars.
NBC is set to debut “Today All Day,” a round-the-clock “feed” of material from its venerable A.M. program. The offering will be available starting Wednesday on Peacock, the new streaming-video outlet from parent NBCUniversal, as well as on Today.com. NBC hopes to distribute the new product via other venues as well, says Chris Berend, executive vice president of digital for NBC News Group, in an interview.
The show’s four weekday hours and its two weekend editions will remain intact on NBC’s broadcast network. But streaming fans should not expect to get caught up on the news by Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb at 7 a.m. on the dot or watch Al Roker tell them to stand by for weather “in your neck of the woods” at certain designated spots on the hour. Instead, says Ashley Parrish, vice president of strategic content at NBC News Group, users will be offered four six-hour blocks of“Today” content that will include segments from recent show archives tied to current trends, as well as original shows starring current “Today” hosts, along with other possibilities culled from the morning mainstay.
“This is very much for us about attracting new audiences,” says Berend. “We believe that the things that make the ‘Today’ brand powerful, which are the emotion, the utility it provides, will be discovered by and attract a brand new audience — and outside the context of traditional television.”
And with that, NBC will begin to test a potential reworking of the economic architecture of morning TV.
“Today” and rivals like “Good Morning America” and “CBS This Morning” remain industry powerhouses, drawing millions of dollars in ad revenue each year. Indeed, the four hours of weekday “Today” captured around $482.4 million in advertising in 2019, according to ad-tracker Standard Media Index. But viewership for all the programs continues to erode as audiences flock to alternatives, including e-newsletters distributed at the crack of dawn; A.M. podcasts; and cable-news competitors. In recent years, NBC News has launched “Today” anchors in digital-video series and offered behind-the-scenes chatter about the show in real time on Sirius XM Radio, all part of a bid to widen the “Today” footprint. Part of the modern “Today” strategy recognizes that the TV program, as lucrative as it is, is just one of many ways current audiences might interact with the show.
“Those four hours that we do on TV are incredibly important,” says Berend. “What we are creating is a complement to that.”
Many of the nation’s news divisions have begun to court digital viewers, but only a few have attempted to overtly refashion their best-known TV brands. ABC News has an entire live-streamed operation that hinges more on taking viewers to the most compelling story of the moment than it does on giving shout-outs to “20/20” or “This Week.” Fox News Channel has built a subscription-video outlet, Fox Nation, on documentaries and lifestyle programming that make regular use of the company’s anchors and hosts (the service offers a “Fox & Friends” after-show each weekday). Putting more MSNBC content on digital might mean eating into that network’s business at a time when its ratings have increased – and prompting conflicts with cable and satellite distributors. The networks have instead learned more heavily on creating original concepts for new venues. NBC News unveiled “Stay Tuned,” a new short-form program for Snapchat, in 2018.
Even so, in recent weeks TV executives have begun to pair their better-known series with digital counterparts. CBS recently launched a new version of “60 Minutes” on the short-form video service Quibi. NBC News has created a “kids’ edition” of “NBC Nightly News” that streams on YouTube and a “Meet The Press” panel of college students for digital viewers.
All the while, there have been efforts to expand morning-news brands. ABC’s “Good Morning America” in April of 2018 unveiled a revamped digital presence after the show decoupled from a longstanding deal ABC News had with Yahoo. CBS News regularly feeds segments from “CBS This Morning” to CBSN, its streaming-video hub. ABC and NBC have also stoked e-commerce businesses that derive revenue from users who go to buy products recommended by various A.M. contributors.
“In addition to breaking and making news every day, ‘Today’ is a powerhouse in the lifestyle space, helping our viewers navigate their lives with trusted, fact-based advice,” says Noah Oppenheim, NBC News’ president. “With ‘Today All Day,’ we’re extending that relationship with our audience through the rest of the day and ideally welcoming new audiences who are drawn to this format.”
NBC News staffers have been crafting the streaming “Today” feed for at least half a year, the executives said, with Parrish’s team sifting through as many as 300 hours of recent “Today” segments to devise a week of programming for the new “All Day” offering. In March, a memo surfaced from Parrish telling employees that NBC News was shifting some staffers to “to focus on preparing for a streaming experience.”
“We looked back on four hours of TV each day that goes back years and years. If we just focus on that evergreen content and more of the lifestyle mix, it’s still a huge chunk,” she notes. Viewers grappling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic are likely to want personal-finance tips and life hacks, she says, along with stories that empower and inspire. But they can also expect to see cooking demonstrations, advice segments and human-interest stories, among other topics.
The new feed is likely to focus heavily on just the current coterie of “Today” hosts. There are no plans at present, for example, to dig into Gene Shalit’s movie reviews, or devise a wheel of segments led by former anchors such as Bryant Gumbel or Dave Garroway. “The viewer will not go 30 minutes without seeing ‘Today’ talent, either in archived content, some of our digital series” or, potentially, other concepts, says Parrish. “As we get more and more into the feed, there will be more original programming specifically for it, so we can respond to consumer habits and what we are seeing.”
The bet is that a “Today” stream will find viewers of “long-session video, lean-back video,” says Berend, and create an audience no longer bound by the fact that the bulk of “Today” appears on TV between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m.
There is also hope that the “All Day” stream may find its way to non-NBC venues, particularly at a time when many large media companies are spending millions to acquire ad-supported streaming services like Pluto (ViacomCBS), Tubi (Fox Corp.) and Vudu (NBCU’s Fandango). Some large advertisers, tired of their pitches surfacing alongside questionable and sometimes offensive content, have begun to pull back from social-media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, and are eager to find calmer digital environments. The creation of “Today All Day” goes “directly at a request and a directive from the advertising community for brand-safe content,” says Berend.
After a period of exclusivity for NBCU’s own properties, he says, NBC News will look for other roosts for the “Today” stream. “We feel pretty confident that there are going to be new products that will come out of this.”
The “Today” anchors have been involved with digital-only segments for months. Craig Melvin spotlights interesting fathers on “Dad’s Got This!” Jenna Bush Hager explores celebrities’ favorite books with “Open Book.” Hoda Kotb talks to famous folks about their favorite quotes in “Quoted By.” Savannah Guthrie peppers guests with questions in “Six-Minute Marathon.” And Al Roker asks notables a range of questions while they craft a signature sandwich on “Cold Cuts.”
Roker does not seem daunted by the need for new kinds of content from the NBC morning franchise. “I am so excited about ‘Today All Day,’” he says. “Now, whenever you’re hungering for a taste of ‘Today,’ you can get a little helping of Hoda, a serving of Savannah, a crumb of Craig, a chunk of Carson [Daly] or an allotment of Al. Mmmmmmmm.”