- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

NBC Universal said yesterday it expects to cut 700 jobs and consolidate its news divisions as part of a broader plan to take advantage of the digital age.

The media and entertainment giant said the layoffs, which account for 5 percent of its work force, will help shrink operating expenses by $750 million by the end of 2008.

Dubbed “NBCU 2.0,” the overhaul includes streamlining the company’s news operations by relocating its cable news channel MSNBC from Secaucus, N.J., to the company’s headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.

Similar restructuring plans are being reviewed at the network’s news bureaus and facilities across the globe, the company said.

NBC will reinvest much of the savings into digital technologies as a means to tap into a more cost-effective distribution platform such as the Internet, mobile devices and MP3 players.

“This initiative is designed to help us exploit technology and focus our resources as we continue our transformation into a digital media company for the 21st century,” said Bob Wright, NBC chief executive officer and vice chairman of parent company General Electric Co.

Last week, GE said its third-quarter earnings grew by 6 percent despite falling profits at NBC Universal, which reported a 10 percent slump in earnings.

A spokeswoman for NBC television stations said it is too early to know whether Washington’s NBC station, WRC-TV (Channel 4), will see job cuts.

“There’s nothing specific to say at this point. We’re evaluating everything and continuing to look for opportunities where there are news-gathering operations in one location,” she said.

D.C.-based Channel 4, owned and operated by NBC, is the only Washington-area broadcast affiliate that also houses a network’s Washington bureau in the same facility.

When asked whether the 700 employees facing job cuts had been identified, the spokeswoman declined to comment more than to say: “Everything’s being evaluated.”

However, Washington-area media blog dcrtv.com reported last night that at least one local reporter is being let go: I.J. Hudson, who joined WRC-TV in 1985, will leave the station in early January, according to the blog, which cited unnamed sources.

A WRC spokesman could not be reached last night for comment.

Television analyst Gary Arlen, president of Bethesda media research and consulting firm Arlen Communications Inc., said the network’s decision to overhaul its operations and sharpen its focus on new technologies is not surprising.

“All networks have been very aggressive in moving content onto cross-platform distribution,” Mr. Arlen said, referring to news and television programs made available by networks on the Web and on MP3 players. “Everyone is trying to figure out how to keep their affiliates happy and also get advertisers satisfied.”

Mr. Arlen noted that NBC already has taken steps to make its content accessible online.

“They’ve done an awful lot of cross-platform work already,” he said, citing the “Daily Nightly” on MSNBC.com as an example that lets Internet users preview that night’s “NBC Nightly News” segment.

NBC has inked partnerships with high-profile on-demand media services such as YouTube Inc. and Yahoo. The network also has debuted many exclusive broadband channels.

NBC’s entertainment division, which has long been the butt of jokes by the networks’s own late-night comedians for its disappointing prime-time ratings, also will see changes.

Jeff Zucker, chief executive officer of NBC Universal Television Group, told the Associated Press yesterday that NBC will shake up its prime-time lineup in an effort to save money by scheduling game shows and reality programs — like “Deal or No Deal” and “The Biggest Loser” — which are cheaper to produce, in the 8 p.m. weekday slot.

The decision to drop expensive dramas and comedies from the 8 p.m. lineup will not necessarily impede family television viewing, said Melissa Caldwell, senior director of programs for the Parents Television Council.

“When you think of the golden age of the family hour, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t exactly reality TV,” Miss Caldwell said. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing; it just depends on what direction NBC chooses to take.”

Miss Caldwell cited ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and NBC’s “Deal or No Deal” as examples of prime-time reality and game show programs that families can watch “without fear of being offended.”

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