Describe how NBC’s programming, economic incentives, business strategies, foreign and domestic distribution, and use of technology changed from 1980-2010.
Introduction – Boom of Television
The 1970’s was the era of exploration, but then in the 1980’s a boom of television began. The cable television gave replaced the limited amount of traditional channels and brought out more channels. The three channels were replaced with sixty and later two hundred channels. The rapid growth of the channels compelled the channel owners to think hard about what they were going to show to the people, as television was gaining immense attention of the audience on a daily basis . Their main purpose had to be to show something so engaging that it grabs the attention of the audience, and they do not change the channel to look for something else to watch. During the same time, the television owners started to notice, that the audience was becoming diverse . From family time, the audience had now changed to a single individual, because even children now had television in their rooms. The advertisers also noticed the change and began working in order to target that particular audience, as well.
With time, the programs changed from the family theme to be more on edge and the owners started testing in order to find out the types of programs that could grab the attention of different audiences . The focus of the television owners had changed from informative programs to sensationalism, and now they had to shock the audience as well. Nudity became common, and the use of street life began to take its toll . Soon enough, the change in audience was noted quickly, and the television owners started making more sophisticated shows, allowing the people to look more closely to the real life of different institutions like police. The inside life of the police stations portrayed through dramas changed the perception of the audience, and they started looking differently towards them .
NBC had a special hold of the Thursday nights for as long as anyone can remember. This emergence helped NBC to rise from their struggling reputation and come out strong. The Thursday nights of NBC are considered the most profitable in the history of television. Starting with the ‘Cosby Show’ in the start of 1980s, NBC has strengthened its hold. It follows the format of showing one drama and four situation comedies . Brandon Tartkoff became the head of entertainment in 1980 . He made good use of his skills to choose and slot shows, which helped the channel to evolve into comedies, and dramas that they have been showing for more than twenty years, and made it a culture that has become popular with time.
Popularity of Sitcoms in NBC
The sitcoms were highly popular before the 1980s and in 1983, the amount of sitcoms increased and the networks had more sitcoms in their prime time spot than in the 1970s . These sitcoms remained on the network until 1982 while other sitcoms also came on screen for their debut. For example, Cheers, which began from 1982 and ended in 1993, was a family comedy . Family Ties, which ran from 1982 to 1989, and was about a family in the post-sixties’ era and starred Michael Fox. Newhart ran from 1982 to 1990, and was one of the most successful shows as it built up the rating and brought back Bob Newhart, the comedian . Some of the other sitcoms introduced during the 1980s were The Cosby Show, from 1984 to 1992, Father Knows Best, which was the first African-American sitcom lead by Bill Cosby; and Kate and Allie, which ran from 1985 to 1989, and was about two women who were divorced and raised their children together . The successful names of these shows apparently shows that the sitcoms had not died but just over-shadowed by the introduction of the dramas that had an hour-long length. New forms were introduced in the dramas during the 80s, and a large number of audiences were attracted towards them as well . The dramas and sitcoms existed in the Nielson ranking on the top 20 spot with the dramas gaining more popularity while the sitcoms as well evolved, but did not fail to retain its important spot at the prime time slot .
Day Time Shows gaining more profit than prime time shows
The daytime programs also retained their popularity although it was feared that since the workers were not available at that time, which could cause a drop in the ratings . This, however, did not happen, and the programs began to run successfully. However, in the 1980s, an increase in the audience was seen which Nielson thought was because of the experiment they were conducting in order to attract more young teens by adding sex hype . This gave them an idea that the daytime soaps could also attract more audience and become more profitable than the prime-time shows. For example, Another World in NBC, which ran from 1979 to 1980, in the ad revenues, took $230, 000 for each episode, while it took only $71, 000 for production, which meant a profit of $159, 000 for every episode . The daytime shows were earning more profit than the prime time shows in which Tonight Show earned a profit of $131, 000 . This new development caused the networks to lengthen their soaps and the ones, which did not start to phase out slowly.
Decline and Rising Back
All this success caused NBC to experience some of its best years, which was because of the programs that were a hit among the people. The programs like The Golden Girls, A Different World, Cheers, and The Cosby Show reached the highest point of their season in the years 1987-1988 and thirteen of the twenty shows in the ranking were possessed by NBC . The success however did not stay for long, as after 1990, the decline took place when Cheers started expiring, and Different World and Cosby began to lose their grounds due to the comeback of ABC .
This decline, however, was not long to stay, and the channel started rising back in 1995 with the introduction of Mad about You, Frasier, Friends, ER, and Seinfeld. Along with that, NBC had also started spreading in other areas like starting a news channel ‘CNBC’ in 1989, which was successful, and the ratings had begun to rise . NBC launched over sixteen other channels and with the introduction of a Spanish news channel ‘Canal de Noticias’ the position of NBC network grabbed a strong hold on the cable television . NBC also interested itself in other networks like Mexico’s TV Azteka, the European satellite distribution of NBC Super Channel Asia, CNBC Asia, ANBC, and NBC Super Channel . It had also announced it is teaming up in 1995 with Microsoft to form MSNBC , which was a business network of news with online applications.
Other Fields Targeted by NBC
NBC had bought Telemundo, the Spanish language channel for $2.7 billion in 1994 that was struggling because of the success of rivals Univision Communication Incorporation . Jeff Gaspin was put in charge to take the channel out of its problems and shine among its rivals. The Spanish language channel had failed to attract an audience as it only mustered less twenty percent of an audience during its prime tie. The task was also a tricky one for Gaspin did not know the Spanish language .
Apart from the dramas, sports were also one of the focuses of NBC as it attracted a large number of audiences. With the Olympics coming up, every channel wanted to broadcast them, and NBC paid an enormous record-breaking amount of money for the broadcast of Olympics of 1984 . With Olympics, NBC also focused on several other games; “Major League Baseball on NBC” was the name given to the weekly games shown on NBC during 1994-2000 . Some of the programs like “Baseball night in America” and “The NBC Game of the Week” date back to the 1940s. Before the 1980s, NBC aired the World Series, All-Stars Game and Game of the Week as they did not have over-the-air rights at that time . These games were aired under the name of The Baseball Network. Even from 1996 to 2000, NBC aired only post-season games and to this day, the Game 6 of “2000 American League Championship Series” was the only game of Major League Baseball that was aired on NBC .
In 1983, NBC, ABC and Major League Baseball agreed to the terms of a 6 year package which was worth 1.2 billion dollars in which the two channels would alternately cover the playoffs, the All-Stars Games and the World Series . Each of the club would be receiving seven million dollar a year and the last package introduced, gave each of the 26 clubs 1.9 million dollar a year. NBC contributed 550 million dollars for 30 games of Saturday afternoon, while ABC paid 575 million dollars for the regular season prime time games and afternoons of Sundays .
Hockey was another game aired by NBC over time. ABC continued to show the games but in 2006, NHL returned to NBC and currently their contract holds till the year 2021. NBC in the 1990s just wanted to check the amount of appeal hockey has on the audience so it only showed the All-Stars game as they had already lost a Major League Baseball contract to CBS . NBC however gained back the NBA rights of broadcasting which caused a shadow over the appeal of NHL. In 2006, NBC cut a deal with NHL to show regular games on the afternoons of Saturday . Their contract continued for two years and also had to option to add two more years to the contract, but the coverage of the matches was delayed due to NHL Lockout of 2004-2005 which caused the channel to cancel all the playoffs and the regular season .
NBC has always been in competition with ESPN and the sports media specifically focuses on the question whether NBC can close the gap between ESPN and itself since ESPN has more power compared to the other sports channels . Comcast and NBC made a deal in 2009 which combined the two channels to air sports. This posed a great threat for ESPN as many sports media persons thought that ESPN would now come across plenty of competition form the combined efforts of NBC and Comcast . During the 1990s, all the important sports events like Summer Olympics, NBA Finals, Super Bowl, and the World Series were all shown by NBC . This however did not continue and NBC continued to lose the rights of many major sports events. Several different reasons play their part in the problems faced by NBC which can make them put on some competition to ESPN.
- The government approved the acquisition in the late 2009 while the approval was given in 2011 .
- NHL is basically a major sport in the years when Olympics are not shown. NBCSN was branded as versus when the acquisition was announced and the channel was in between a problem with DirecTV . This was in the middle of a major hockey season and due to the dispute that went on for months, some twenty million houses did not receive the NHL coverage. The ratings went down since the games were not being shown to millions of subscribers .
- The re-branding of NBC Sports Network from “Versus” was a very slow process . The re-branding was confirmed in 2009 after seven months thought . The announcement was made in 2011 and it was actually put into use in 2012.
- The next reason was the location of the channel. ESPN and NBCSN were separated by hundreds of channels and NBCSN came up where nobody looked or dared to go . So the people only settled with ESPN as they were not even sure whether NBCSN even existed in the television.
Importance of Family Shows
The new era realized the importance of the family shows and Tartikoff sought out to revive the family sitcoms. The sitcoms had been declared dead in the 1980s, because of the introduction of the long length dramas . However, the times had changed, and the idea of family programs had started to evolve. The producers put on a spin on the crux of the family shows by changing the cultural and race orientation as in the Cosby show. Bill Cosby along with ABC co-producers brought back the sitcoms centered on the family, which caused NBC to climb its ladder of success .
Losing Popularity of Thursday Nights
In an article printed in the Wall Street Journal by Sam Schechner, it was mentioned that the Thursday nights that had a strong hold on television was slowly started to lose its popularity . The reason behind this was stated that few people are watching the prime time shows of Thursday because of the changing habits of the people, and a lot more competition-taking toll, which consists of several different shows . In the past, Neilson Company estimated that around 48.5 million people were watching the Thursday prime time shows between the ages of eighteen and forty-nine . This number had fallen down to only 2.2 million and the usage of Thursday nights had come down to only one per cent . The Thursday nights had become necessary watch in the 1990s with programs like ER, Friends, Seinfeld being aired on NBC.
NBC used ‘Must See TV’ slogan for advertising their prime time shows during the 1990s, which was focused on Thursday Nights, which included sitcoms and dramas . The Thursday line-ups successfully dominated the ratings until the end of the 90s decade. In 2000, however, the network started falling behind when its competitors started introducing more programs, and the audience began to evolve. Currently, NBC is behind CBS, ABC and Fox in terms of its ratings .
The slogan was focused on the Thursday night prime time shows but in 1997, NBC used this slogan for five nights in a week, in which four sitcoms were shown from Monday to Thursday while two were shown on Sunday . The advertisers were lining up for to sell their ads to NBC on Thursday nights as it attracted a large number of audiences. The moviemakers as well targeted these networks before their release on every Friday.
The promotional producer of NBC, Dan Holm in 1993, created the slogan ‘Must See TV’ . The slogan aired on TV the same year while the network added a day to promote the weekday. The slogan was used to promote the premiers of different programs that had to be aired on the network. The end of the premier included the slogan ‘Get home early for must see TV Thursday’ , which continued to air to promote several different programs on Thursday nights . After some time, some of the Thursday programs, for example, Wings and Frasier were moved to Tuesday nights after which the slogan added Tuesday to its line; ‘Must See TV Tuesday’ .
The slogan gave a brand name to the programs being aired on Thursdays after which the programs like Hill Street Blues, Taxi, Cheers, and Fame went on to become ‘America’s Best Night Television on Television’ .
The highest rating of an episode on NBC included the season finale of Cheers in 1993, which was seen by 84 million people, and the highest rating of a drama included ER in 1995 watched by 48 million people. NBC has seen its equal share of success and decline over the years through period of 1980s to 2000 . Many executives have come aboard to take the channel to the next level while each of them has contributed their fair share. The Thursday nights have now become strong on other networks, bringing into the scene different reality shows. However, even after its decline in ratings, the shows continue to entertain people presently as they did when the channel was launched and grabbed hold of the network cable channels with the introduction of several different channels to fulfill the needs of each person belonging to different communities.
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