New reality dawning at NBC Uni

700 layoffs, changes at 8 p.m. play part in 2.0 revamp

NBC Universal on Thursday outlined a sweeping re-structuring plan that will cut 700 jobs throughout the company and save $750 million annually in an effort to remake the company in the digital world (HR 10/20).

NBCU 2.0 is an effort to not only respond to NBC Uni's changing fortunes after its fall from longtime dominance on broadcast TV but also to successfully navigate the shifting media landscape in a company that executives said was built on an old business model.

Plans include moving most high-cost scripted NBC dramas and sitcoms away from 8 p.m., relying more — but not exclusively, executives stress — on its in-house production studio and merging booking, newsgathering and technical operations in the company's large news division on both coasts.

And MSNBC, the 24/7 cabler that has been based in Secaucus, N.J., for a decade, will move to NBC News headquarters in Manhattan.

The idea of NBC abandoning scripted programming in the 8 p.m. hour and increasing its commitment to in-house product set off alarms in the creative community.

NBC Uni Television Group CEO Jeff Zucker attempted to ease concerns that the network would close its doors to outside suppliers.

"I don't think you can cut yourself off from great content wherever it comes from," he said. "There's no question that owning as much of our content as possible is something that we talk a lot about because it allows you to exploit that material better through other platforms, but you can't cut yourself off from great programming, which comes from so many different places."

Still, sources at non-NBC-affiliated studios indicated that the combination of NBC's ratings slump, decreased inventory with fewer slots dedicated to scripted programming and a mandate to rely heavily on its in-house studio would make them reluctant to pitch shows to the network.

Digital will become an increasingly important part of NBC's business, with the company predicting that it will have more than $1 billion in digital revenue by 2009. Zucker said it didn't mean that the company would be investing heavily in original digital media content — though he didn't rule it out — but he said that it was going to smartly use the content that it was creating for all sorts of platforms.