A true National Broadcasting Company?


NBC News Truck

NBC News Truck (Photo credit: Indiana Public Media)


A long time ago in a blog not so far away, I wrote about a future where NBC became PBS 3.


Well, let’s take that thought and look at it.


NBC, for non-Americans, is the National Broadcasting Company. Despite the name, it has never been owned or operated by the US government or any of its constituent states or territories. (It might seem that way if you’ve ever visited New York City, but hand-to-god, it’s always been private.)


NBC, however, has pretty much acted like it was the US’s public-service broadcaster. How long has NBC been around? Practically since Broadcasting year dot. In fact, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC-US) owes its existence to a court order demanding that NBC spin off some of its radio stations.


I think there’s a bit of an affection amongst Americans towards the Peacock. It used to be that when you travelled overseas, especially to Europe, you’d see CNN and NBC programming which would allow you to keep in step with what was going on at home.


I’m from the last generation that can really remember NBC ruling the ratings, particularly on Thursday nights where the Cosby Show begat Seinfeld which begat Friends which begat…nothing.


And now, nbc (intentional lower case) has become hammered and nailed to fourth place, behind FOX! The network that most nights only has 2 hours of network programming. Let’s not even get started with the Olympics coverage which is managing to be successful despite an ever growing animosity towards it.


Well, I’d like to offer a suggestion to nbc’s woes.




I know, scary thought, but GM & Chrysler survived it and are now turning a profit, perhaps nationalising might make us love the Peacock again.


Television is such a part of what it is to be American, that it seems only right that we shouldn’t allow one of the big names to be a whipping boy.  We allow television programming into our homes to become a de facto member of the family, so by extension, why don’t actually make it a family member?


Ah, but if nbc is making money, then why does it need saving?


Well, NBC Universal is making money, because it’s a gigantic behemoth that incorporates theme parks, movies, and cable channels (it’s even owned by a cable provider–Comcast). nbc, the network, not so much.


So, what I’m suggesting is that we spin off NBCU‘s charity case network from the behemoth and let it get back to basics.


Right, now that NBC is on its own, let’s take a look at what we’ve got: A still prestigious name in the world of news and sports with one of the biggest networks of stations in the entire country, but with a programming that while often critically-lauded, seems to still keep it in 4th place.


Here’s the fun part.


If NBC becomes the public-service broadcaster  of the US, then into its corporate laws and regulations could be written that ratings aren’t the determining factor, relevance  is.


Use that wide nationwide network to go canvass the opinion of the American public. Instead of a group of LA-based executives trying to find out what will play in Peoria, why not let Peoria into the programming room from the  very beginning. You might very well be surprised.


What about the PBS stations?


I’m so glad you asked that question: PBS is its own animal and it’s also NOT really a public-service broadcaster. It’s more like community access television with better equipment, with all the sponsorship ads, it’s also beginning to look more like a highbrow commercial network rather than the non-profit collective that it is supposed to be.


Here in Australia, there are two public service television networks: The ABC (note the article), or the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and SBS, or the Special Broadcasting Corporation. They manage to get along like peas in a pod of 25 million plus people, surely NBC & PBS could in a pod ten times that size.


Let’s give PBS the ability to run commercials and let’s kick the commercials off NBC.


This will have the added benefit of ending the much-dreaded PBS pledge drive, because all that commercial revenue now goes into keeping the network running and all the excess goes back to the government which could lead to tax breaks.


As for NBC, let’s start by funding it with a levy across all television networks, stations, and cable operators. They might cry fowl at first, but NBC programming now is “the nation’s programming” and they get it for free, perhaps not first, but they get news and sport coverage past and present for free, because they would’ve paid for it.


Plus, a leaner NBC, more focused on providing programming, won’t be so obsessed with haemorrhaging money for actual content.


Just a modest proposal.


NBC Peacock

NBC Peacock (Photo credit: afagen)





Nostalgia Jukebox Says Come Home

I’ve found myself in a bit of a nostalgia kick recently. Happily enough, it’s not die to anything sad, in fact, it has more to do with extremely good news. (By the way, my show on JOY 94.9, World Wide Waves will be doing a US show next month in celebration of  this news)* 

* Wednesdays at 11pm AEDT, and if you haven't tuned in or downloaded the podcast, take this as your chance to catch up!

You know, I have probably ridden NBC harder than any other US** network, but I remember when NBC was THE network, and it’s extremely sad to see something that used to be grand just become a shell of itself. 

** With this new announcement by President Obama, I officially retire my use of the phrase "that place" to describe the USA. It's my home, and I'm happy to refer to it by name. 

This is the NBC I remember:

Come Home to NBC (1987)


NBC 1985

(by the way, can you imagine how much that cast lineup would be now?) 

If I Ran A Commercial Network (Part Two)

RTL Television

Image via Wikipedia

Continuing on from the previous post:

Fourth, Ratings are important but not everything.

The commercial networks are too hair-trigger with their cancellations. I find this terribly ironic since they also seem to not give a fig about consistent scheduling.

Still, they shuffle, promote, and withdraw programmes with lightning speed when the ratings don’t come up to scratch. This year alone, Nine has put the kibosh on programmes by Ben Elton (3 weeks, and admittedly it was dire but retooling never seemed to be on the cards) and Eddie McGuire (3 weeks & 3 weeks with two heavily marketed shows). Imports aren’t immune either. If you liked Medium or Supernatural or even Law & Order, you were hard pressed to find what time and even if they were airing, such was the speed at which they were scheduled and withdrawn.

As much as I take aim at NBC, the execs there are aware that very few shows come with a built-in audience, and that you have to allow them to grow. Should an executive be reading this and dismiss it with “why continue to air anything that no one is watching,” I’d like to refer him/her to the previous post about the basic and sacred agreement between network and viewer is.

Without a doubt the internet is reducing the audience, but the schedulers and programmers are themselves HASTENING that fragmentation.

This leads me to my controversial proposal.

Let some NZ networks broadcast in Australia and vice versa. Both Australian and NZ commercial corporations LOVE to scream poverty, so let’s relax any barrier prohibiting exclusively AUSTRALIAN & NZ based networks from broadcasting within each other’s territory. TV3  probably could whip Seven and Nine into shape as a competitor, and Ten would benefit from C4 as competition. TVNZ (despite losing its charter, thank you Uncle John) is still a state-owned entity and therefore would not be eligible, nor would AuntyABC & Aunty Mame (SBS).

This would bring the commercial FTA landscape in both countries to a total of 5 or 6 main broadcasters (I’m excluding the baby channels) and drawing on a combined viewing populace of close to 30 million.  Now, I would say without reservation that local and respective national news must be provided for with this expansion*, but amongst 6 broadcasters there would certainly be enough space as well as impetus to provide both domestic and international programming as well as consistent on-time scheduling.

*As well as adhering to broadcast standards in each country.

If this seems radical, then examine RTL and Canal + in Europe, both of which are examples of how to run successful international commercial channels. And if the Antipodean networks aren’t careful, then both of them will swoop in quicker than the Fremantle Doctor.