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July 29, 2014

How Will NBC Change Under Comcast Ownership?

by Scott Harris, posted Dec 4th 2009 1:00PM
As we reported yesterday, cable giant Comcast has reached a deal to buy NBC from parent company General Electric. Whether or not the agreement makes financial sense is something for business folks to worry about, because television fans have a more important question on their minds: how will it affect their shows? Will it, in fact, be Comcastic?

While who owns the network may not seem all that important at first glance (quick: who owns CBS?), directives from the parent company often filter into programming, from the overt (such as the incessant cross-promotion between Disney-owned networks ESPN and ABC) to the more subtle (the parody version of GE that exists on '30 Rock').As we reported yesterday, cable giant Comcast has reached a deal to buy NBC from parent company General Electric. Whether or not the agreement makes financial sense is something for business folks to worry about, because television fans have a more important question on their minds: how will it affect their shows? Will it, in fact, be Comcastic?

While who owns the network may not seem all that important at first glance (quick: who owns CBS?), directives from the parent company often filter into programming, from the overt (such as the incessant cross-promotion between Disney-owned networks ESPN and ABC) to the more subtle (the parody version of GE that exists on '30 Rock'). And Comcast does have a history of hands-on tinkering with their properties; witness the fate of TechTV, which once was a popular niche channel before Comcast bought it, merged it into G4 and then phased it completely out of existence.

In other words: be afraid, Jay Leno, be very afraid.

With that in mind, we thought we'd take a moment to look at some of Comcast's other networks and ventures to see how this deal may end up affecting your favorite shows. Because the big picture may be fine for Wall Street, but it's the small screen that matters to us.

Some possible changes to look out for:

Vancouver Olympics on NBCEven more Olympic coverage. NBC still holds the rights to the Olympic games, having sewn up the contract through 2012. This should fit in perfectly with Comcast's agenda: the cable conglomerate is already teaming up with the U. S. Olympic Committee to bring the U. S. Olympic Network to life some time next year. So don't be surprised if you start seeing Olympic-themed storylines popping up in NBC dramas; 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit' at the Olympic Village, anyone?

More sports in general. Right now, NBC Sports is limited to the Olympics, one NFL game a week and a smattering of golf events, NHL games and Notre Dame football. That's likely to change in a big way, as Comcast owns or jointly owns over a dozen sports networks, including The Golf Channel, Versus (home of the Tour de France, the NHL and extreme sports shows) and the MLB Network, along with a number of regional sports channels. With ratings for shows like 'The Jay Leno Show' and 'Heroes' continuing to slide, the answer could come in the form of prime time sporting events.

A new home for Leno. NBC is in a bit of a pickle with 'The Jay Leno Show;' the gamble to replace all their 10PM programming with Leno's daily talk show has been a massive bust, yet Leno himself remains a popular figure and an important commodity. So what can they do? Well, with Comcast's distribution system in place, one option may be to move Leno rather than cancel him. While his numbers aren't impressive for a major network, they would still be more than competitive on cable -- or even in syndication. Leno has proven he can deliver in the right context; with Comcast aboard, the chances of the proper fit being found seem much greater.

Burn Notice on USACable hits on network television. It has been reported that one of the biggest draws for Comcast in this deal wasn't NBC itself, but rather NBC properties such as Bravo, Syfy and the USA Network. Which gives Comcast the perfect solution if they do shift Leno to cable: move hits from those networks into Leno's time slot. Popular shows like 'Burn Notice' are already doing better numbers and grabbing more viewers than Leno, so imagine how they might fare on a major network in prime time. And Bravo's slate of popular but cheap to produce reality shows might be a good financial fit for NBC as well.

A second chance for 'Friday Night Lights.' Comcast might have secondary motives for giving 'Friday Night Lights' another shot besides their interest in sports programming: for the last several months, the company has been feuding with DirecTV over that distributor's refusal to agree to a rate increase for carrying the Versus network. Since 'Friday Night Lights' has been airing on DirecTV's The 101 Network for the last two seasons, Comcast may decide it can find a better address for the acclaimed series -- back on prime time where it belongs.

Status quo for Thursday night. Finally, one thing that likely won't change much is NBC's Thursday night comedy lineup, which is about the only bright spot in the network's programming. Even '30 Rock' likely won't have to change much; perhaps in anticipation of a possible sale, the series, which in its early days heavily featured GE ownership as part of the overall premise, recently had the network acquired by a new fictional boss, the Sheinhardt Wig Company. Which is too bad; we were king of looking forward to see Jack McBrayer drone the C-O-M-C-A-S-T chant.

Sound off: What changes do you hope to see in NBC under Comcast ownership?

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