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NAB 2017: Greenblatt Sees Programming, Digital Becoming 'One Big Thing'

Full Coverage of NAB 2017

Las Vegas – When Robert Greenblatt became chairman of NBC Entertainment in 2011, the network was "badly in fourth place," and largely devoid of having "any identity at all in the digital or social media space."

"Facebook had fewer likes for NBC as a network than CBS, which is an older network than us, and we thought, that’s going to change," Greenblatt said. "Once you get behind in this business, it’s hard to get back out front."

Change it did.

As Greenblatt explained Tuesday at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, NBC today ranks as the top-rated broadcast network, and has some of the most socially engaged shows on-air – SNL, The Voice and This is Us among them.

And that the network’s linear and digital turnaround occurred simultaneously is no coincidence, he said during a discussion with comedian Chris Hardwick.

"The most social shows tend to be the highest rated shows," Greenblatt said. TV can no longer be the passive experience it was born as, he said.

"If the experience is great holistically, it is going to make people want to watch the show whether it’s on our network or some other platform," he said.

Creating that experience is such a crucial component of NBC’s programming, and success, that each of its shows now has digital producers embedded in the crew, he said.

That effort takes shape in a variety of ways. SNL’s digital endeavors, for instance, include the immediate sharing of broadcast content on social media (Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer portrayal got 27 million views right away), and producing Snapchat skits.

The Voice’s app allows viewers to interact directly with the show, including voting for contestants. 22 Million votes were cast last season alone, Greenblatt said. Contestants, in turn, also have social media presence, an anomaly among competition shows.

All of which, Greenblatt said, has been a driving force behind the series’ linear success. "It’s our No. 1 show. I don’t think that correlation is by accident," he said.

Even the network’s breakout hit drama This is Us has a "rabid" social following, which emerged somewhat unexpectedly given that the show didn’t have the obvious tie-ins that comedies or contests do, he said. When the series trailer went viral, viewers posted video of themselves watching it with deeply emotional responses.

"People want more and more of that show," Greenblatt said. "I can’t give them many more episodes but I can give them other stuff."

Greenblatt, however, said he believes broadcasters won’t be delineating between their linear offerings and that "other stuff" for long, as reaching consumers regardless of platform is key to the medium’s future.

"Social and digital are really becoming one with what we’re doing," he said. "It's going to be the confluence of the programming and the digital becoming one big thing."