NBC Revitalization – An Attempt to Put Humpty Dumpty Back on the Wall

The old English nursery rhyme, Humpty Dumpty, first appeared with slightly different lyrics than we know them in our day:

Humpty Dumpty sate on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
Threescore men and threescore more,
Cannot place Humpty Dumpty as he was before.

(Joseph Ritson, Grammer Gurton’s Garland: or, the Nursery Parnassus; a Choice Collection of Pretty Songs and Versus, for the Amusement of All Little Good Children Who Can Neither Read Nor Run (London: Harding and Wright, 1810), p. 36.

Today, NBC Universal will introduce its new boss, 52-year old Stephen B. Burke.  He takes over after the FCC and Justice Department approved the acquisition of NBC Universal by Comcast a week ago.  His job, as head of the network, is to “place Humpty Dumpty (aka NBC) as it was before.”

The original purchase agreement led to the ouster of controversial and very politically polarizing Jeff Zucker, who oversaw a drastic decline in the NBC brand, yet inexplicably held onto his job, largely due to the support of GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt – General Electric, of course being the previous owner of NBC Universal.  This firing was handled by Mr. Burke, himself.

The New York Times reported that “Mr. Burke’s real ‘welcome to NBC’ moment came six days ago with the ouster of the MSNBC [extremely left-leaning] anchor, Ketih Olbermann, a classic NBC episode of infighting, secret negotiations and the splashing of internal gossip across the press.”  (New York Times, A Little Less Drama at NBC, By Tim Arango and Bill Carter, Published: January 26, 2011)

Mr. Burke is largely expected to initiate a major cultural change at NBC (currently the bottom-ranked network, bleeding an estimated $500 million per year) which, according to those who have spoken to Burke, he has come to believe has, heretofore, been largely politically driven (internal and external) as dictated by GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt.

In addition to a cultural change, the revitalization of a brand that many viewers, among other things, have come to distrust as source of unbiased and truthful news.  With a 24-hour news cycle and instant avenues for obtaining news, Mr. Burke will need to be extremely creative and lucky.  NBCs cable news station, CNBC, stands dead last in the ratings as well. 

The NBC network programming, in order to be profitable, should take lessons from its cable channels, Bravo and USA Network, which have produced a string of highly rated and entertaining programs.

In the end, Mr. Burke’s ability to place Humpty Dumpty “as he was before” will depend on skill, a great deal of good fortune, and, most of all, the ability to regain the trust of a viewership with many other, well-established options to choose from.

Leave a Reply