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NBC Plans 30-Second Local-News Head Start

Film at 10:59:30" is not very catchy, but, beginning in January, that will be the start time for local newscasts leading out of NBC's prime time schedule.

NBC is going to end its programming 30 seconds early to give its affiliates an edge in local news and Jay Leno a head start on David Letterman.

Still under discussion, sources say, is a possible arrangement that would enable local newscasts to start immediately after NBC's 10 p.m. show concludes, with no commercial in between.

That seemingly small time advantage gives NBC affiliates a leg up in the highly competitive battle to bring viewers from prime into the late newscast.

The late local newscasts of CBS and ABC affiliates begin at 11 p.m. ET sharp, although for how long is anybody's guess. Affiliate sources last week were saying that, once the competition gets wind of the new start time for their affiliates, it would likely be just a matter of time before the other networks follow suit. ("I give it six months, tops," one station executive predicted.)

The new arrangement is an offshoot of a recently extended agreement between NBC and its affiliates under which inventory is swapped to help the network maximize its Olympics sales effort. As part of the deal, affiliates also forego a portion of their allotted network compensation (what little is left of it, anyway) as a way of helping the network pay the hefty Olympics rights fees without actually coughing up cash.

The extended deal goes through the 2012 Olympics. NBC acquired the rights this year in a packaged bid that gives it the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver as well. In June, NBC submitted a winning bid of just over $2 billion to acquire the rights to the 2010 and 2012 games. The site of the 2012 games hasn't been chosen yet.

The start time for local news stemmed from NBC's demand for an additional 30-seconds of ad time for The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, as part of the extended Olympics-inventory agreement with affiliates, sources say. NBC initially proposed carving an additional 30-second ad unit out of affiliates' 35-minute late newscast.

Stations resisted that idea. As a result of negotiations, led by affiliate-board chairman Roger Ogden, NBC will now get its extra Tonight
spot by simply moving the local news ahead by 30 seconds. Ogden couldn't be reached for comment by press time.

Technically, stations don't have to begin their newscast at 10:59:30 ET/PT if, for some reason, individual market circumstances dictate against it. Starting in January, though, they do have to end newscasts at 11:34:30, which is when The Tonight Show
will begin. Effectively, the additional commercial spot for Tonight
will come out of the network's own promotion time.

News of the rejiggered start times probably won't thrill CBS's David Letterman, who has been critical of the poor ratings performance by his network's owned stations' late newscasts and the resulting small audience lead-ins those stations have provided for The Late Show With David Letterman.