by CHRISTIAN ALEKSANDROV
NBCUniversal is one of the world’s mass media conglomerates. Founded in 1926 as the National Broadcasting Corporation, Inc. (NBC), the company steadily expanded domestically and internationally, owning and operating a vast portfolio of broadcasting networks, cable channels, and online platforms, as well as, motion picture production and distribution enterprises, and several amusement parks.
The company initially founded by the Radio Corporation of America. Inc, became a sole unit of General Electric in 1986. In 2004, NBC joined forces with Vivendi’s Universal Entertainment and expanded its operations out of the television broadcasting field. Since 2008, NBCUniversal is owned by Comcast, the largest cable company and home Internet service provider in the United States, becoming the world’s largest in revenue mass media group.
The flagship company of Comcast’s NBCUniversal is the National Broadcasting Corporation. Inc (NBC), the oldest major broadcast network in the United States. For nearly 90 years, NBC has been offering quality news, entertainment and sports programming. One of NBC’s most popular shows are the Friends, ER, Seinfeld, Saturday Night Live, the morning show Today and Nightly News.
NBCUniversal’s most recent financial report shows that in 2014, the NBCUniversal’s revenue increased 7.5% to $25.4 billion compared to $23.7 billion in 2013, making the company and specifically its broadcasting division NBC, Comcast’s major earnings booster. The Sochi Olympics was the event that brought most of the revenue to the company. Even excluding $1.1 billion of revenue generated by the Sochi Olympics in the first quarter of 2014, the revenue still increased 2.9%. Contributing to the standout performance in 2014 was also the 18% growth in operating cash flow. As of April 17, 2015, the price one Comcast’s share on NASDAQ is 58.42, which is close to the company’s record high of March 6, 2015. The report for the first quarter of 2015 has not been released yet.
NBC broadcast one of the most watched morning, daytime, primetime and late night programs. However, the current 2014-2015 television season is expected to be less successful than the previous season, when NBC was named most watched network by adults 18-34. While shows like Blacklist, Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, and Modern Family attracted enough audience to remain on the top of the ratings, other newly launched programs like the Slap, and A to Z were canceled after a couple of episodes.
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Controversies in NBC News
In the last five years, shortly after Comcast’s acquisition of the company, NBCUniversal has been experiencing serious issues with the performance, popularity and credibility of its news division – NBC News. Lower ratings, higher competition, personnel problems, and unprofessional business and media practices caused concerns about the current state and future performance of the broadcasting network, and hurt the image of the media conglomerate as a whole.
The controversies in NBC News date back to 2012 and the surprising and “very public” departure of NBC’s morning show host, Ann Curry, from the program. Curry was replaced by Savannah Guthrie just after a year on the air as co-host of Today due to low ratings. Her departure however caused a negative response from the public due to rumors for backstage rivalry between her and co-host Matt Lauer as cause for her replacement. Even though Curry remained in the network for 3 more years after, she made only occasional appearances on the screen, which led to her departure from NBC News in 2015.
Similar to the case with Today show, NBC News Sunday morning show Meet the Press, under the moderation of David Gregory, struggled with achieving the high ratings of its predecessor Tim Russert. This led to Gregory’s encouraged by the network departure from the program in 2014, and, indeed, to another controversial personnel replacement for NBC News.
However, the greatest challenge for the news division of NBC came in 2015. On February 4 broadcast of Nightly News, the most watched news program in the United States for years, Brian Williams, the host and managing editor of Nightly News, confessed that he had reported a misinterpreted information about an incident from the War in Iraq in 2003. Williams apologized for the story he had told on the January 30 Nightly News broadcast, and back on March 26, 2003 that a military helicopter he was traveling in had been forcibly taken down by an RPG. Shortly after, NBC News President Deborah Turness decided to suspend Williams for six months without being paid in order to quell the scandal, but the news about his false reporting remained in the agenda of most media outlets for days.
Williams’ controversy seriously affected the credibility of NBC News. This event, together with the identity crisis in Meet the Press and Today finally led to changes in the executive personnel of the news division. A month after the scandal with Brian Williams, Andrew Lack, a former president and COO of NBC, was named the new head of NBC News, replacing the TV veteran Pat Fili-Krushel Under his supervision, Today, NBC Nightly News and Meet the Press were all on the top of the ratings in the 90s. NBCUniversal’s executives also hope that Lack would work to improve MSNBCs low ratings momentum, as well.
Unfortunately, shots have continued to be fired at NBC News credibility. On April, 16, 2015, after a thorough investigation initiated by New York Times and only two months after Williams’ suspension, NBC News revised another report. This time of the 2012 kidnapping of its chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel. In the statement, NBC said that Engel’s reporting that he had been abducted by the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was incorrect. In fact, he was kidnapped by the Sunni militants, who at that time were supported by the United States. The public response and NBC’s further actions regarding the case are yet to be detirmined.
Even though NBCUniversal has been contributing to the growth of its parent company Comcast with high ratings and increasing revenue, the recent controversies behind the news division of the company had been hurting the public image of the media conglomerate. With the new changes in the executive figures, the company is hoping to bring back the old leadership of the flagship news programs and to make them equally successful as NBCs primetime programs The Voice, The Blacklist, Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live. It’s still not determined what Andrey Lack’s plans are for the future of NBC News – would he keep Brian Williams and bring him back next fall, or he would replace him with his current interim Lester Holt, who continues to bring relatively high ratings for Nightly News. On the primetime schedule, NBC is hoping to attract more audience with some new shows – Eva Longoria’s comedy Telenovela, David Duchovny’s limited series Aquarius and Will and Grace’s star Megan Mullally new futuristic dramedy Apocalypse. NBC’s upfront, when the company is officially reveiling its plans for the upcoming television season is scheduled to be on May 11, 2015.
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