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NBC Cuts Budget, New Emphasis on Digital

NBC: NBC television, paired with the Universal movie studio under GE, is dumping people and jobs. This is to cut operating costs by $750 million by the end of next year.

NBC: big cuts in news and a decision to stop programming expensive dramas in the eight o'clock hour. That's the first of three nighttime hours of programming that affiliates must carry. Brooks Barnes broke the story in today's Wall Street Journal. Brooks, why is this happening now?

BROOKS BARNES: All of the media companies are trying to get a handle on how they can grow with digital media just exploding. And NBC, you know, is coming from a place where they've been down in the ratings the last couple of years and just have said, look, we can't carry these costs as we move forward into these new initiatives.


: But NBC News is number one in the news broadcasts at night and there's a graph in your story today in the paper that seems to show their numbers for overall broadcast programming actually getting a little bit better.

BARNES: Well, they say, I mean, that they're doing this from a position of strength. That's debatable, but certainly in the late night, in news, in the morning, NBC is number one across the board. So they're very careful to say, look, we want to protect our brand, you won't see any changes in nightly news, you're not going to see any changes in The Today Show, but we've got to collect our news in a different way going across all of our divisions.

: Because you see the audience splintering and going to the Internet and people getting their news in all kinds of different ways.

BARNES: Right.

: What about the other networks? What is going to happen at the other television networks? Because the changes that you see, especially in this eight o'clock hour, I mean that's a huge change in the way networks think about programming.


BARNES: It is. I mean it is and it isn't. It's a huge change for a flagship network. NBC was the first network to exist. FOX has only had two hours of programming since they came into the business and the other networks are just looking at them and saying, look, this is a much leaner system; we have fewer hours to program; we don't need to spend three million dollars on a drama that is just sort of a mediocre time filler. And especially as fewer people watch on the TV and more go online.

: You say that FOX is kind of a model. In that same graph that I referred to earlier in the paper today, that kind of measures what the broadcast audience is, FOX is substantially smaller than the other networks. But I think what you're saying is their audience is much smaller, but it costs them hugely less to get that audience.

BARNES: Right. And FOX ended the season last year as the number one network. So when they have fewer hours to compete against the big three, it's just a game that is impossible for NBC, CBS, ABC to play.

: You broke this story today. You cover media for the Wall Street Journal. Do you know what's going to happen five years from now in media?

BARNES: No. (Laughs) The pace that it's been changing over the last year has really been incredible. I think that you'll see a lot more people watching TV on their computers. You look at college students. They don't even bring TVs to their dorm rooms anymore. They just bring a computer. So that's sort of the direction we're moving in. How quickly is anybody's guess.

: Brooks Barnes of the Wall Street Journal. Brooks, thank you.

BARNES: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.