'Christmas in Rockefeller Center' as Comcast Buys NBC

Rash Report: New Mega-Merger Depends on Old Media Rule of Content Is King

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- It was "Christmas in Rockefeller Center" in more ways than one. First was NBC's annual holiday special. Then came an even bigger present: NBC Universal was bought by Comcast, in a mega-media deal that values the entire enterprise at $43.5 billion.

'Christmas in Rockefeller Center' was off 18% from last year.
'Christmas in Rockefeller Center' was off 18% from last year. Credit: NBC
While NBC itself won't provide profits proportional to its headline status as the marquee component of the new Comcast, it has the most upside, given its poor performance over the last several seasons.

But to realize its programming and profit potential, Comcast will have to remember that no viewer ever turned on their TV or computer screen to watch synergy.

Rather, content is the once and future king. Take last night's network ratings race, for instance, in which two classics, one perennial -- CBS's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" -- and one instant -- Fox's "Glee" -- dominated demographically with ad-centric adults 18-49 to help their respective networks finish as the two top-rated networks of the night.

Fox finished first with an overall 2.9/8 rating and share, followed by CBS (2.8/8), ABC and NBC, which tied with a 1.7/5, and the CW (.4/1).

"Glee," with no known stars but a galaxy of talent, has critics, kids (and some of their parents) giddy. It belted out a season high 3.6/10, which would be impressive under any circumstances, but was especially so because it ran against another music show, CBS's "Grammy Nominations Concert" (2.3/6). Both beat repeats of NBC's "Law and Order: SVU" (1.9/5), ABC's "Modern Family" (2.3/6) and "Cougar Town" (1.8/5) as well as the CW's "Vampire Diaries" (.4/1).

"Rudolph" led the way in prime time's first hour with a 3.8/11, which, while off 10% from last year, was enough to be the top-rated show of the night. Connecting with (mostly) moms and their kids, who can begin a holiday viewing tradition anew, "Rudolph" beat two shows that are supposed to have a hold on the youngens, Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" (2.3/6) and a repeat of the CW's "Gossip Girl" (.4/1). (ABC showed a rerun of "Modern Family," which delivered a 1.7/5, and an original episode of "The Middle," 2.0/6.)

At 10 p.m., content, while still king, was a little less royal, as the former king of late night, NBC's Jay Leno, only delivered a 1.5/4 for his talk show, which barely beat the already-canceled "Eastwick" on ABC (1.3/4), but lost to a rerun of "Criminal Minds" on CBS (2.2/6).

Jay Leno is just one of the compelling content challenges Comcast brass will have to contend with for next year. NBC's current schedule has only nine scripted series, which despite the rise of reality, still create the defining shows for a broadcast network. One of these penned programs, "Trauma," has already been canceled, and the ratings for another new show, "Mercy," are low as well.

Rash gridsEnlarge
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

Its signature scripted series, the "Law and Order" franchise, began 19 falls ago, and even the decade-old spinoff "Law and Order: SVU" may be in the autumn of its first-run life (there will always be cable reruns), given the ratings reduction it's experienced since moving to 9 p.m. to make way for "Leno."

"Heroes" was once just that -- heroic -- to hit-starved NBC, but lost its media mojo after its first year and now routinely finishes fourth in its timeslot.

More promisingly, its sitcom block is a hit with critics, with multiple Emmy Award winners "The Office" and "30 Rock" commercially viable, let alone valuable. But lead-ins "Parks and Recreation" and "Community" don't have commensurate cultural cache and usually finish fourth with viewers as well.

To be sure, like all networks, some reality shows, like "The Biggest Loser" are hits. And NBC often has the week's highest-rated show in Sunday Night Football. But soon the regular NFL season will end, and the gridiron will yield to a grid with "Celebrity Apprentice." And in an era of double-digit unemployment, "You're Fired!" isn't so funny anymore (if it ever was).

But don't count NBC out. As witnessed by its cable success and ratings leadership in news and late night (if "Saturday Night Live" is counted, that is), it can come back strongly, as long as it has the right content.

Oh, and as for "Christmas in Rockefeller Center"? The show was off 18% from last year to a 1.8/5. But the NBCU-Comcast deal, which gives the gift of a potential new owner with deep pockets and even deeper distribution capabilities, probably kept holiday spirits up at 30 Rock.

WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: Two of the gems in the Comcast-NBCU deal -- "The Office" and "30 Rock" have new episodes.
Friday: Back to holiday specials: "Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa" on NBC and "Dreams Come True: A Celebration of Disney Animation" on ABC.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Ratings for the fall finale of ABC's "FlashForward," which should indicate if there will be interest in the spring when it returns.

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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.

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