A recent report suggests that NBC is considering cutting one primetime hour seven nights a week in a cost-cutting measure. Here’s why.
NBC demonstrated exactly how important the 10 p.m. primetime hour stands for its affiliates back in 2009. That year, the network launched The Jay Leno Show.
To keep Conan O’Brien at NBC, network executives came up with a plan that would give him Leno’s Tonight Show gig, then move Leno to a new show weeknights at 10 p.m. But Leno’s primetime show didn’t deliver the ratings the previous NBC dramas delivered at the same time. Affiliates balked, arguing that the weakened 10 p.m. program was affecting their late news ratings at 11 p.m.
After just five months, the Peacock Network (not to be confused with streamer Peacock, which didn’t exist back then) pulled the plug. Leno moved back to The Tonight Show, and O’Brien ended up leaving NBC after all with a lot of money.
News broke recently, however, that NBC may be considering something different at 10 p.m. once again. This time, instead of placing a variety/talk show there, it may be abandoning that hour altogether.
Giving up the third hour
The Wall Street Journal reported that NBC was in discussions about the possibility of ending its primetime lineups at 10 p.m. rather than 11 p.m. That would mean that 10 p.m. hour, which has long been network programming, would be given to the affiliates. (Obviously, I’m talking about eastern time here. But the loss of that last primetime hour would happen whether it’s at 10 p.m. or 9 p.m. where you live.)
For NBC stations, it would give them the opportunity to move their late news from the traditional 11 p.m. slot to the 10 p.m. slot. There, those stations’ newscasts would be able to compete with any Fox affiliate late newscasts, since the Fox network has never programmed the 10 p.m. hour.
That could be a good thing for NBC stations.
For CBS and ABC affiliates, they’d have less competition at 11 p.m. for their late local news, assuming people wouldn’t watch at 10 p.m. and then watch something else at 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m.
Some suggest that the stations wouldn’t get the entire 10 p.m. hour. NBC could decide to stop its primetime programming at 10 p.m., then move its Tonight Show to 10:30 p.m. instead of its normal 11:30 p.m. timeslot. That would give Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight a head start on Stephen Colbert at CBS and Jimmy Kimmel at ABC.
For those who still like some of the 10 p.m. shows NBC offers, moving them to other slots could hurt the network (and the NBC affiliates) in the 10 p.m. hour.
A glimpse of the future?
The idea, which NBC hasn’t confirmed is anything other than an idea at this point, will inevitably amplify concerns about “the beginning of the end” of broadcast networks. It’s not quite that dire just yet.
Dropping the 10 p.m. hour would certainly save NBC the cost of those expensive programs, most of which are scripted dramas. It would also cost the network its advertising revenue collected during that hour.
But some do insist we’ve reached a tipping point with respect to streaming TV. It was just last month, after all, that ratings for streaming television beat both broadcast and cable for the first time. NBC also made headlines with the news that it was taking its last-remaining soap, Days of Our Lives, off its daytime schedule in favor of its streaming service, Peacock. That change takes effect next month.
If NBC were to implement this change, The Wall Street Journal suggests it’d be a year before that could happen based on their current contracts with the new season’s shows. What happens a year from now might give a better idea of how drastic the broadcast networks think their own future might be.