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NBC: The Future Is Now

NBC and affiliates, working through a "futures committee" formed a year ago, have a list of ideas that they hope to turn into new revenue streams.

High up on the list is a plan for affiliates to broadcast NBC's Spanish-language network Telemundo and Pax TV over their now underutilized digital stations. NBC owns one-third of Pax.

The network and its affiliates still have their differences, but they set them aside last week in New York as they met behind closed doors to sort out how best they can work together to fully utilize their digital spectrum and better exploit the Internet.

NBC stations head Jay Ireland also laid out the owned stations' "centralcasting" strategy and how affiliates might avail themselves of it. Centralcasting involves controlling several stations or parts of stations from a central remote hub. NBC has been among those pioneering the technology.

Some of the new business opportunities make certain assumptions, such as an FCC rule requiring cable systems to carry local stations' digital signals in their entirety. That's absolutely critical, NBC Chairman Bob Wright reportedly told the affiliates. "Any viable business model for digital includes a hybrid of HDTV and multicasting. So the entire multicast must be carried by the cable operator, or our viewers will be disenfranchised."

The affiliates and the network also discussed offering classified advertising via the Internet, jointly operating a Web site for the 2004 Olympic games and creating an Internet service for streaming NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw
and other NBC-owned programming.

The Olympic Web site would offer an array of statistics.

Randy Falco, president, NBC Television Network Group, encouraged stations to "look at the strategic vision and focus on the future."

He also urged them to participate in the futures committee. "There is no bad idea, and all proposals will be treated seriously." Localism, he added, "will be even more of a differentiator for broadcasters going forward. I can't stress enough how important the network/station partnership is and how much we need to take advantage of that 77-year history of flexibility and strength."

"It was a very positive meeting," said Post-Newsweek Stations President Alan Frank.

Liberty Broadcasting President Jim Keelor agreed. The futures committee has produced a "serious agenda," and both sides seem fully engaged in turning proposals into real businesses. "We have a very good dialog going with the network, and there seems to be a genuine sense of commitment by both parties to see what we can do together going forward."

Gannett Executive Vice President Roger Ogden, who is chairman of the NBC TV affiliate board of governors, confirmed the discussions. But he stressed that "every market situation and every opportunity in an individual market would be a little different."