NBC News already produces dozens of hours each day for MSNBC and programs like “Today.’ But it’s preparing to come up with a few more.
The NBCUniversal unit is this week launching two new hours on its live-streaming service, NBC News Now, a testament to growing demand for news delivered quickly via broadband. Starting today, Aaron Gilchrist, formerly an anchor for WRC, NBC’s Washington, DC, station, will preside over a noon to 2 p.m. block Monday through Friday on NBC News Now, which is also available via Peacock, the streaming-video hub NBCUniversal launched last year. Gilchrist’s new afternoon program will focus on all the news that’s breaking at the moment and on getting details from journalists in the field and working the phones to learn all about it.
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Other shows are coming to the service, says Janelle Rodriguez, the NBC News senior vice president who oversees the service, including one led by NBC News’ Hallie Jackson that is focused on politics. “We are literally expanding it as quickly as possible,” the executive says in an interview. “People want this. They are coming to us and they are coming to us in huge numbers.” Rodriguez says some viewers tune in for up to 40 minutes at a time. The new Gilchrist program will bring NBC News Now to about ten live original hours per day.
Streaming news from some of TV’s main purveyors is still in its relative infancy, but it is having to grow up fast. As consumers migrate quickly to new streaming services, live news represents one way big media companies like ViacomCBS, Walt Disney, WarnerMedia and Comcast, NBCU’s parent, still have to assemble the large, live audience their advertisers and distributors crave. Paramount Plus, the ViacomCBS broadband service that debuted last week, touts “breaking news” as a cornerstone of its offerings and includes a new version of “60 Minutes” with longer story segments than its TV counterpart.
Of course, there’s a challenge. While it might be simple to let established anchors from cable news and mainstay broadcast shows in similar fashion on the new streaming outlets, that would likely put the media companies at odds with their affiliates and cable and satellite partners, who count on being the access point for live broadcasts from Rachel Maddow, Wolf Blitzer, Sean Hannity, “The CBS Evening News” and “Today.”
As such, streaming outlets like NBC News Now have worked to create a differentiated product that looks little like the news shows to which people have tuned in for decades. “The one thing we do on purpose is we are very guest light. We don’t put on a lot of guests. We don’t put opinion people on. We are all about showing the reporters and journalists, “says Rodriguez. “It’s the anti-talking head presentation.” The service doesn’t focus mainly on politics and is willing to devote longer segments to stories that might only get 90 seconds on more traditional programs that hew to a tight schedule.
The company is also running topic-specific specials on the outlet. One recent effort was led by Savannah Guthrie as she examined the effects of the pandemic on young people. There is one slated to run soon devoted to a look at how Asian-Americans have been the victims of racism during the coronavirus outbreak. NBC News journalists “may do a short piece or a quick hit on one of the other networks but they can really spend time in depth getting into the story when they are on Now,” she says.
Now started out with NBC News testing pre-election show specials with Chuck Todd or Kasie Hunt, but it has moved forward, says Rodriguez. And while it can’t skimp on the production values that are a hallmark of TV, says the executive, it can test new formats. “We can break from traditional ways of doing pieces because the audience is really open and expects originality and creativity.”
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