Commercial-Free Today, But At What Cost?

By Chris Ariens 

In the hypercompetitive world of the broadcast morning shows, you try what you can to get ratings. But ABC says NBC isn’t playing fair. This morning’s 8am hour of the Today show had no national commercial spots. A relatively new tactic that takes the hour out of Nielsen measurement.

Jim Murphy, senior EP of Today‘s rival Good Morning America, tells TVNewser why he thinks NBC dropped the spots. “They did it because they were worried they were going to lose.” “They filled the space with promotional material,” Murphy says. Promoting next week’s Ends of the Earth series, and this weekend’s appearance of Brian Williams on Saturday Night Live. Some could argue that promotion could drive more viewers to the network. Still, Murphy says, “I’d love to know how the shareholders of [GE] feel about this.” NBCU is “throwing away a substantial amount of money, because they know they are about to lose a week.”

Allison Gollust, spokesperson for NBC News says, “Perhaps GMA should be more concerned with our Barack Obama exclusive than with our commercial placement.” Gollust tells TVNewser the Today show makes “programming decisions for a variety of reasons.”

An industry insider who is not affiliated with NBC, ABC or even CBS tells me the tactic is “bending a rule way beyond its breaking point, if it’s a two hour show, it’s a two hour show.” “You trust that is a two hour average and it’s not,” says the insider.

Today was not the first time Today used the tactic. And Murphy admits he tried it too, two weeks ago. “We did it once because we had strong intel that they were going to do it.”

Murphy’s message for Today: “Come out and play on an even playing field, it’s a great competition.”