Burke: NBC Is Leaving $1 Billion on the Table

Network exec vows to gain equal footing with rivals

Steve Burke Photo by Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images


NBC is consisting on crumbs while its broadcast television rivals dine like kings, and Steve Burke is fed up.

Speaking to investors Thursday at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2012 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference, the NBCUniversal CEO said the Peacock doesn’t generate anywhere near the operating cash flow of CBS, ABC and Fox. 

“There are four companies that each have the same infrastructure and yet one company is making on average $1 billion a year less than the other three,” Burke said. “Each of our competitors makes somewhere between $700 million…and maybe $1.5 billion more than we do, and there’s no reason for that, other than we need to make better shows and we need to schedule them better.”

Of course, introducing higher-quality ratings bait to the TV ecosystem has never been merely a matter of applying one’s nose to the grindstone. But a new programming hierarchy is in place under second-year entertainment president Bob Greenblatt, and NBC will consider 2012-13 a success if it can simply leverage its Sunday and Monday night deliveries to help build a crowd on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Still, there’s no way of understating how profoundly Zucked-up things were when Greenblatt first arrived at 30 Rock in January 2011. In delivering two modest hits in Smash and Grimm and a pair of comedies that earned renewals (Up All Night, Whitney), Greenblatt earned a passing grade in his first year on the job.

Already things are looking up for NBC this season. Through three episodes, the third cycle of The Voice is averaging 11.5 million viewers and a 3.9 in the 18-to-49 demo; moreover, the new comedies have been well sampled. The Matthew Perry vehicle Go On has had the greatest impact thus far, averaging 9.73 million viewers and a 3.4 rating on Tuesday, Sept. 11.

Full-on network competition won’t begin in earnest until the week of the 24th.

“You need to have patience and put the right people in place, but broadcast is a tremendous opportunity,” Burke said. As such, Comcast is rebuilding the broadcast unit—a catchall that includes the NBC network, the owned-and-operated stations and the syndication business—brick by brick, and already some progress has been made on the local front.

“Our stations got all the way down to making less than $150 million a year, and this year they should make well over $400 million,” Burke said. And while he acknowledged that the station business undoubtedly is seeing a lift from election and Olympics dollars, progress is progress.

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