NBCUniversal and its affiliates have been trying to resolve an early argument about new plans for its late-night lineup.
NBCU has made plain its intentions to stream Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” and Seth Meyers’ “Late Night” on its new Peacock streaming-video service a few hours before the programs normally debut for linear TV viewers after the late local news. There has been no mention from the company as of yet about whether the hundreds of stations that air NBC programming feel that poses a conflict to the way their business operates.
As things turn out, the stations may get paid in some fashion for the new distribution of Fallon and Meyers on the soon-to-launch outlet. n Affiliates “will participate” in any success NBCUniversal has with streaming the shows earlier on Peacock, according to a person familiar with the matter, and remains “in constant contact” with a board of executives made up of station-owners who have business ties with NBC. The two sides have “been in ongoing conversations about participation,” this person says.
NBCU declined to make executives available for comment. In a statement released to TVNewsCheck, Pat LaPlatney, the chairman of NBC’s affiliate board and co-CEO of Gray Television, said the group is “working toward a plan that is good for NBCU and provides affiliates the opportunity to meaningfully participate in this business.” Gray executives could not be reached for further comment Tuesday.
NBCU’s plans for Fallon and Meyers would start in July, when a “premium” version of Peacock is slated to be made available to a wider array of customers. A free, ad-supported version of the service will debut April 15 on select distributors, including Comcast and Cox. The premium version will also have ads, but will carry a broader menu of content options – including the earlier-than-usual availability of its venerable late-night lineup. “Tonight” has been available over the air since 1954, while “Late Night” has been a staple of the NBC lineup since 1982.
The moves show how the business of wee-hours TV is quickly changing. TV stations have long been able to sell late-night commercials to local advertisers in a portion of commercial time set aside each night. The stations serve as distribution points of a sort, making sure Meyers and Fallon are seen everywhere from Fort Worth, Texas to Fort Richardson in Alaska. The relationship is important enough that Meyers in every broadcast features a coffee cup on his desk that nods to a specific NBC station.
But in recent years, segments of those late shows are being consumed more readily via digital means, including YouTube channels originated by the programs themselves, or clips posted on Twitter from the shows’ social feeds. Fallon’s tribute last week to Kobe Bryant, for example, captured more than 10 million YouTube views, making it “Tonight’s” most-watched video of 2020, according to NBC. Last week, “Late Night with Seth Meyers” garnered 14 million views of new content, and 18 million of archived material.
All of that lures audiences away from watching the linear version of the shows, which in turn crimps the ability of a local station to get higher prices for the ads it sells. Season to date, “Tonight” generates the second-largest audience among late-night viewers between 18 and 49, the demographic most coveted by advertisers, in the 11:30 time period, behind CBS’ “Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” Meyers’ “Late Night” lures more of those viewers than its main competitors , ABC’s “Nightline” and CBS’ “Late Late Show With James Corden.”
TV networks have made other big moves to get late-night programming to viewers who prefer to watch the stuff at other times of day. NBC used to make viewers across the U.S. wait to see “Saturday Night Live” until after their station’s late local news had aired in their time zone. But since the Spring of 2017, NBC made the long-running program available as it is being performed live for east coast audiences. Conan O’Brien cut his show on TBS to half an hour from 60 minutes in an effort to make the program more appealing to viewers who largely watch comedy clips via mobile screens and smartphones.
““They don’t watch ‘Saturday Night Live’ the way we watch ‘Saturday Night Live,’” O’Brien said of younger viewers in November of 2018. Talking to two or three guests and then telling the audience to tune in tomorrow “doesn’t make sense any more,” he added at the time.
In the push to court new viewer behaviors, however, TV networks might need to consider whether they are cutting other, more traditional crowds out of the equation.