Harbert: Nets need to rethink biz


LAS VEGAS -- The broadcast networks need to rethink their traditional programming model, Comcast Entertainment Group president and CEO Ted Harbert told NATPE attendees Wednesday morning during a "Coffee With" session at the Mandalay Bay.

Harbert, a former head of ABC Entertainment and NBC Studios, said the way that broadcast networks continue to do business needs to be "re-examined." He pointed out that the networks are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make pilots that will be presented as short clips to advertisers at the spring upfronts even though "we know that buyers don't buy off clips, they have to watch the shows."

Harbert, who oversees E! Entertainment Television, Style Network and G4, called it "silly" to keep working to fill a 22-hour primetime schedule, saying that broadcast should take a page from cable's book when it comes to scheduling.

"There's no rule that says they need to make that much television. We'll take a show and put it on Sunday night and (repeat it) Tuesday night and Thursday night -- we call ourselves auto-TiVo: If you don't see it Sunday, you can see it Thursday," he said. "A few broadcast networks are doing that, taking Saturday night and repeating dramas, and people say, 'How can you do that?' But they have to -- they aren't making money. (CBS Corp.'s) Les (Moonves) is the only guy making money."

During the session -- which was moderated by Andrew Wallenstein, digital media and TV features editor at The Hollywood Reporter, which sponsored the event -- Harbert pointed out that broadcast networks are spending millions of dollars creating shows that sometimes don't last more than a couple of episodes before they get yanked from the schedule.

"It really makes me upset to see the amount of money that went into these shows in the fall -- several of them quite good -- that are now gone," he said, citing ABC's "The Nine" and NBC's "Kidnapped" as examples.

He added that many broadcast telecasts are "very close on many nights to having cable ratings but are at least 10 times the cost" and that, for the most part, broadcast shows aren't recouping their costs in syndication or overseas.

Also during the session, Harbert discussed future plans for his networks, saying he along with the rest of the industry are still learning how to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by digital media and that he's continuing to work to improve his networks' sites and supply them with original content. He pointed out that today's younger generation gets their content from so many platforms that they aren't likely to return to linear television as previous generations have once they "settle down, get a job, get married."

Harbert added that E! has seen big payoffs in terms of ratings with its hiring of Ryan Seacrest and that he's looking to find hit shows for the network in 2007. As for G4, he's looking to get more money from Comcast so that the male-targeted channel can develop signature original programming.