NBC's Kevin Reilly Is Having Fun Again

A Confident Entertainment President at the Television Critic Association's Tour

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PASADENA, Calif. (AdAge.com) -- A visibly more relaxed Kevin Reilly, president of NBC Entertainment, addressed the nation's TV critics here today at the Television Critics Association tour, opening the network's all-day session with a more positive message than the network has had in some time.
NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly says the network will finish the season on a high note.
NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly says the network will finish the season on a high note. Credit: NBC

That message was one of confidence, that the network now has a couple of tentpole shows to go into battle with and that it has plenty of quality, if not boffo, ratings performances yet in its newcomers on its schedule. Mr. Reilly opened the day heaping praise on one of those performers, "Heroes," the network's No. 1 new show this season.

He also boasted that NBC had tied CBS and ABC for first place in the advertiser-coveted demographic of 18- to 49-year-olds this season, but in reality, CBS is ahead with 4.8 million viewers in that demo, while ABC and NBC had 4.7 million, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The feeling around the office
He described a new energy around the office and a new feeling that had all but been forgotten. "That feeling? Oh, that's fun," he joked, adding that he believes NBC's season will end now on a high note.

Mr. Reilly has a good reason to feel better this year: NBC ended last season in last place in viewers 18-49, but the network's second-place tie so far with ABC on the strength of show's such as "Heroes" and Thursday's "My Name Is Earl and "The Office" has lifted spirits at 30 Rockefeller Center.

When asked about ways NBC was using the web to promote shows, Mr. Reilly raised the radical prospect of putting pilots on the web. "We have a plan cooking. We may expose some of the pilots in the middle of screening week to certain audiences." Last March, when the schedules for the following year come together, NBC won credit from ad agencies for sharing DVDs of pilots they had ordered early for the slate.

The idea of web pilots was one pushed by "Scrubs" creator Bill Lawrence, who got NBC interested in his show, "Nobody's Watching," by posting the pilot on YouTube. Right now, NBC is in contract negotiations with the show's producers about whether it is going to stay on air with NBC. The show is produced by Touchstone Television, which is eager to take it to ABC, should NBC balk at the cost of a new season. "Scrubs" is currently part of NBC's Thursday night comedy block.

Programming for a TV audience
When asked about the increasing importance of the web, Mr. Reilly said it was important to remember that it's a TV network viewing audience that comes first and that he wasn't programming for a web audience, "I see a time when the web is going to give us a key interactive relationship with the audience and it will be a key measurement tool, but we're not there yet. We do see a correlation between buzz and web activity." "Heroes" is NBC.com's most-downloaded show.

The download possibilities for each show had created many new opportunities but also headaches, because almost every show meant a new set of negotiations with its distributors. That was one reason that the failed show "Kidnapped" could be seen online for two weeks after it ended, because of negotiations over web rights.

Mr. Reilly added his voice to the chorus of network execs banging the drum to receive ratings credit from marketers for audiences who view shows using digital video recorders, arguing Madison Avenue ought to begin paying for those viewers.

"That's going to be a spirited discussion for some time to come. We are getting zero credit for anyone viewing in DVR households. DVR users are very big viewers of TV, so it's a real concern for us, to get some value. It's in everyone's best interests to find a meeting of minds."

Skeptical about commercial ratings
Mr. Reilly appeared skeptical that Nielsen Media Research's updated plan for releasing commercial-minute data would become the industry standard, however. "We don't know enough about the [Nielsen] methodology to commit to it. It will be something that is dissected and discussed."

NBC is also aggressively brainstorming ways to bring advertisers fresh thinking on the marketing front. Mr. Reilly said he had met with Mike Pilot, the network's new president-ad sales, to discuss what they could do together. "Anything is possible. Whatever dance we're doing on the tech side, we're doing with the ad partners and clients. Whether that is sole sponsors, we have a portfolio of options that will succeed."
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