NBC Says Broadcast TV Is Thriving, Even as It Works on a Streaming Strategy

Must create services that don't conflict with cable parent company

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NBC execs say their momentum proves that broadcast networks are still thriving. But that isn't stopping them from putting together an enhanced streaming offering to attract non-linear audiences.

"Broadcast network television, at least at NBC, is still a powerful way to bring a mass audience together," NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt said at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour in L.A. "NBC has defied a lot of the doom-and-gloom, downward trends we've been hearing about network television."

But NBC is also working on an enhanced over-the-top offering, the details of which it expects to announce later this year. "Some kind of OTT strategy is going to happen; that's where the audience is going," Greenblatt said. "We spend a lot of time talking about what we're going to do in the space."

The challenge, he said, will be to come up with something that doesn't take away from cable companies like its parent company, Comcast. But "we can go beyond" what ABC is doing with its recently relaunched app, said Greenblatt.

While NBC fell to No. 2 in adults 18-49 this season, Greenblatt said they would have been No. 1 had CBS not had the Super Bowl (of course, one season earlier, NBC would have lost to CBS without the Super Bowl, so what goes around comes around).

But "the nine-month season seems to be obsolete," said Greenblatt, who noted that they will win the 52-week season in the demo, especially with the Rio Olympics.

With last year's sitcom Superstore and new fantasy comedy The Good Place, the network is "creating a block that has the NBC comedy DNA we've been so determined to rebuild," said Greenblatt. Over four months of multiplatform viewing, Superstore (think The Office meets Walmart) equaled the audience for last fall's The Voice season premiere over the same four-month period of time, said Greenblatt.

The network has learned its lesson about comedy development after chasing more broad, less distinctive shows like Animal Practice and last year's Truth Be Told. "You should still go for the sophisticated, smart, great creator's point of view and get behind that," said Jennifer Salke, NBC Entertainment president, adding that the network is finally off its "comedy roller coaster" thanks to shows like Superstore and The Good Place. "Finally this feels like an NBC, smart-specific show … I think we're back on our sweet spot."

On the drama side, Greenblatt said the trailer for new fall drama This is Us now has 91 million views, "which is astounding for a show with no big stars and no pre-sold IP."

While Greenblatt will air special episodes of The Voice and Superstore during the Olympics, he won't be premiering any fall shows early to take advantage of Olympics momentum, as the network has done after previous Summer Games. "You get that huge Olympics platform, but at the end of those 17 days, there's a bit of viewer fatigue," he said. Salke noted that ratings traditionally go down in the post-Olympics period.

Adding Simon Cowell as a judge on America's Got Talent this summer has resulted in the show's most-watched season in five years, said Greenblatt, who thinks "we have a winning combination" of judges. All four judges have been signed to return to the show next season.

Greenblatt hopes that new blood will have a similar effect on The Voice, where "each cycle we understandably lose a little ratings ground." He wants to reverse that trend with the addition of coaches Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys this fall.

NBC will have four Chicago shows on its schedule this year (Chicago Justice is coming midseason), and Greenblatt isn't ruling out additional ones. "Every time I think [producer] Dick Wolf has finished what he started, he comes up with a good idea," he said. "I probably think we're gilding the lily if we go beyond that, but I would never count Dick Wolf out."

While Heroes Reborn fizzled for the network last season, NBC will continue trying to revive "big, universal franchise pieces," said Salke, who plans for "two or three big tries in that area." Greenblatt suggested that a key to success is bringing back the original cast, as Fox did with X-Files and its upcoming Prison Break revival.

With more outlets competing for shows than ever before, Greenblatt said that creators are still interested in working with broadcast networks.

"You see pitches coming out now that go everywhere: network, streaming," said Greenblatt, who recently bought a pilot from Amy Poehler and Seann William Scott that he said could have worked on any platform. "The longer that we stay strong and aggressive, the better we'll do in this competitive landscape."

In other NBC news, the network will air Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best Is Yet to Come, an all-star tribute to the musical legend. It will be shot in September and air Dec. 20. And the network has lined up a big name to host the 74th Annual Golden Globes on Jan. 8: Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV/Media Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.