NBC Works to Speed Digital-News Launches, in Bid to Outplay Rivals
When NBC News announced in January that Hallie Jackson, its senior Washington correspondent, would leave the anchoring duties she had held at MSNBC since 2016, some eyebrows rose. But NBC News was chasing something else on the rise: Digital audiences.
Since Jackson began anchoring a late-afternoon hour on NBC News Now in December 2021, a growing audience has sought her out. Viewership surged 108% over the course of a year. “You don’t see those numbers in many businesses,” says Janelle Rodriguez, the NBC News executive vice president who oversees the streaming outlet, in an interview. “When you see that level of audience increase, you know you are on to something,” On Monday, Jackson will double her time on her program, “Hallie Jackson Now,” to two hours, which means she will hold forth from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
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NBC News Now is also on Monday expanding its evening lineup. Gadi Schwartz will anchor a live hour starting at 8 p.m. ET, where he plans to spend at least half of the hour exploring innovation and future trends — from Los Angeles, where few news outlets (Fox News runs its 12 a.m. show, “Fox News @ Night from the West Coast) base a regular studio program. The first 30 minutes of his program, “Stay Tuned Now,” will try to bring up the energy level for its audience. “While everyone will think its 8, it’s actually only 5 here on the West Coast, 6 in the middle of the country,” says Schwartz. “The news is just getting started.”
With the launch of Schwartz’s new show and Jackson’s new hour, NBC News Now will have live news throughout the late afternoon and evening — and 11 original live hours in total. “A lot of people across the country are just getting home from work, and we are going to be there for them,” says Rodriguez.
A lot of outlets want news aficionados to pick them when headlines break. When asked which platform they prefer for news, 53% of Americans opt for a digital device, according to a 2022 survey from the Pew Research Center, compared with 33% who choose TV; 7% who opt for radio; and 5% who pick print. With those dynamics in mind, many traditional news companies had big streaming plans at the start of last year.
But each strategy was different, and one of them was already scrapped. Warner Bros. Discovery pulled the plug on the ambitious CNN+ within weeks of acquiring WarnerMedia from AT&T. Disney’s ABC News has launched several hours of programming on ABC News Live, but has in recent months seemed more focused on developing new formats and documentaries for outlets like Hulu. Paramount Global has added new digital programs from national CBS News anchors like Norah O’Donnell and Tony Doukopil while expanding contributions from local stations. Fox News Media has continued to add new entertainment and documentary options to its Fox Nation subscription service. And MSNBC has scuttled some hours of its streaming coverage in favor of specials from Nicolle Wallace and others.
The battle for digital-news consumers is likely to continue. Efforts around NBC News Now may be more nimble after the break up of NBC News operations into three distinct units following the exit of former NBC News President Noah Oppenheim. NBC News Now was once one of many large initiatives under the aegis of a single executive. Now, Rodriguez has oversight of streaming operations, special reports and “NBC Nightly News,” and reports directly to Cesar Conde, the head of NBCUniversal News Group, as do two counterparts, Libby Leist who oversees “Today” operations, and Rebecca Blumenstein, who is charged with oversight of editorial, news gathering, bureaus, field operations, booking, “Meet the Press,” “Dateline,” and NBC News Studios. While the restructuring was unorthodox, it leaves NBC News Now with a direct advocate.
One challenge all the media companies face is devising new products that don’t cannibalize the audiences of news programs that already exist. After all, popular news programs like “Good Morning America,” “Today,” “World News Tonight,” “Special Report with Bret Baier” and “The Rachel Maddow Show” already generate revenue flows from advertising as well as carriage fees from cable distributors and affiliates. No one can afford to lose that cash.
NBC’s solution has been to devise a news channel that moves beyond the topics that have come so much a part of cable-news programming. “At MSNBC, on my show that I used to have, we would look at things from a political lens,” says Jackson. “We have the ability to broaden the aperture a bit on the News Now side.”
Jackson is able to bring a more conversational style to her delivery, says Rodriguez, and delve into a different range of stories. “It is really meant to serve all the viewers out there who aren’t hard-core political junkies but want to know what’s going on in the world.” Besides, she says, NBC News Now has an inside-the-Beltway show led by Chuck Todd that’s on every weekday.
Meanwhile, Schwartz will have a chance to examine hot-topic issues tied to artificial intelligence, social media and the ethical implications of advances in technology. “Those are issues Silicon Valley has been dealing with and has been battling with,” he says. The link of his program to the popular “Stay Tuned” show he and Savannah Sellers have done for Snapchat is meant to spur viewers to give the show on Now some consideration.
NBC has found other ways to monetize NBC News Now. Some of its weekday hours have been used to fill afternoon hours on the broadcast network, in a show called “NBC News Daily” that gives local affiliates the opportunity to add some segments of their own.
Eleven hours of programming may seem like a lot to juggle, but Rodriguez, says the company has room to take on more. “We want to keep growing and doing a full 24/7 network.”
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