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New Siblings NBC News, E! Link Hands to Boost Content

Tuning In: But NBC News Won't Become NBC NE!ws

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Ryan Seacrest
Ryan Seacrest Credit: Sadao Turner/Ryan Seacrest Productions

The only "e" in NBC News has long been lower-case and never carried an exclamation point with it. In recent days, however, a new iteration of that vowel has begun to surface: E!

NBC News and E! became siblings when Comcast, E!'s owner, bought a majority stake in NBC News parent NBC Universal. Now NBC News and E! are working together to cover the marriage of Kate Middleton and Prince William -- NBC News took the lead in helping E! secure physical facilities near Buckingham Palace -- and the two expect to share more in the days ahead as circumstances warrant.

"Nothing about it is being forced," said Suzanne Kolb, president-marketing, news and online at the E! and Style networks. "Where the stories or the information being provided really does appeal to all of us, you'll see it done."

Already, NBC News tapped into E! to deliver a gossipy smackdown to rival ABC.

After ABC announced in late February what it thought would be an early and exclusive interview with Charlie Sheen on "20/20" and "Good Morning America," NBC News scored a Sheen interview for "Today" and got word to E! host Ryan Seacrest as he hosted a pre-Oscars red carpet show. Mr. Seacrest let his viewers know.

"There was a call that was literally made into the truck of wherever we were broadcasting live from the red carpet with the information," Ms. Kolb recounted. "Ryan was told and Ryan said it."

More information about the "Today" interview with Mr. Sheen was subsequently woven into post-Oscars coverage. "We happened to be live at the minute they found out they had something exciting," Ms. Kolb said. An ersatz Charlie Sheen news joint venture would continue, as NBC News correspondent Jeff Rossen, who interviewed Mr. Sheen for "Today," then appeared on E!'s news programs to talk about it.

Expect more such stuff in the future. Giuliana Rancic, a popular E! News host who has also starred in a reality program about her marriage to former "Apprentice" winner Bill Rancic, is under consideration to appear on "Today" when appropriate. NBC News and E! don't want to force irrelevant promotions. "It's a matter of having the right content," Ms. Kolb said. "They've got to have something great to talk about."

The notion of Brian Williams and Ryan Seacrest -- the lead host of E! News -- marching in lockstep isn't a natural notion among straitlaced examiners of journalism. Yet as the economics of TV news become more difficult, NBC Universal, which also owns CNBC and MSNBC, has more reason to try to keep news-gathering costs down. Sharing content across its different properties can help achieve such a result.

Doing so can only help as NBCU navigates in a tough business. Ad revenue for traditional broadcast-network news units increased in just the single-digit-percentage range in 2010, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. Amortizing content costs over multiple news outlets could help NBC outflank CBS and ABC, which do not own cable properties that would complement their broadcast news divisions. At the same time, the feat would help NBC against stronger news rivals like Time Warner, which owns both CNN and HLN, and News Corp., which owns both Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network.

To coordinate potential links going forward, E! has designated Bruce Perlmutter, senior VP-news and online for E!, as a point person to alert various NBC News properties when an E! story or feature might play well on those programs.

"There is understanding and a lot of respect for what the editorial is," said Ms. Kolb. "When it makes sense, we want to make sure the lines of communication are open."

NBC Universal is already quite familiar with the flashier side of TV news. The company has produced and distributed "Access Hollywood" for syndication for more than a decade.

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Tuning In is an ongoing series of commentaries by Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg on the TV schedule, the ads it carries and changes within the industry. Follow him on Twitter.

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