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Staab Takes Over NBC Local Media

Valari Dobson Staab, formerly the president and general manager of ABC owned KGO San Francisco, took over the NBC Local Media presidency Monday, and those who know her well say she'll bring strong leadership and digital savvy to the struggling 10-station NBC bunch. Both are skills she sharpened while competing against stations owned by CBS, NBC and Cox, among others, in the DMA No. 6 crucible.

"Valari is experienced with keeping audience, growing audience, and adding asset value to the licenses," says Dave Morgan, president and CEO of Litton Entertainment. "That's job no. 1 at the NBC stations."

Staab succeeds John Wallace as head of the NBC station group, with Wallace moving over to president of NBCUniversal Media Works. Top NBC management wants to both tap the success the ABC owned station group has had for years--insiders say NBC was also keen on WLS Chicago President/General Manager Emily Barr for the job, which Crain's recently reported. NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke, for his part, has ABC in his blood as its former president of broadcasting.

In Staab, NBC also wanted a media executive who's intimately familiar with the rapidly changing digital media world.

San Francisco is known as one of the most difficult TV market thanks to the digital culture that pervades there. Consumption on digital platforms is high, at the expense of television, and advertisers are often keen to display their wares on mobile and online platforms, instead of traditional TV.

Silicon Valley is, of course, also rife with the flashy tech firms and venture capital outfits that dominate the Business sections of the nation's newspapers. KGO has tapped some of its neighbors' tech intelligence; before Google-owned YouTube set out on what it called a "road show" to meet with stations around the country and see how both media concerns could help each other, YouTube's local news execs worked with neighbor KGO's newsroom on a user generated platform called uReport.

Morgan says Staab has found the right mix of solid traditional TV and new media accoutrements to make KGO connect with San Fran residents on all platforms. "KGO has tremendous product--it's a very stable, go-to television station," he says. "She did not overreact (to digital media's emergence). She understands television is a big part of people's lives, and people sometimes forget that." (Litton recently announced it will produce six original children's series for nearly all the ABC affiliates this coming fall.)

Staab, who attended Baylor University, took over KGO in 2002. She spearheaded the development of two prominent local shows, The View from the Bay and 7Live; KGO also produces a pair of shows for ABC's Live Well digital network. Prior to arriving in San Francisco, Staab ran WTVD Raleigh and KFSN Fresno, and was director of creative services for WPVI Philadelphia. She spent 24 years in the ABC group.

Staab was not available for comment, as she's just starting work at 30 Rock today. Multiple local TV insiders who have relationships with Staab would not comment on the record, due to their business interests with NBC's competition. But all spoke well of her. 

She has her work cut out of her in turning around the NBC owned stations, which include WNBC New York, KNBC Los Angeles and WCAU Philadelphia. Insiders say she'll consider some key management changes, look to rejuvenate local news, explore digital partnerships, and see where it makes sense to combine sports resources in markets where NBC Local Media has a station and corporate parent Comcast has a regional sports network, as will be the case at KNTV San Francisco. 

She's also likely to re-install 5 p.m. news at WNBC, in place of the current New York Livelifestyle show, say sources, in the very near term. Other news expansions in that market may follow.

"She's very prepared for the position," says one insider who asked not to be named, due to business interests with multiple networks. "I think she'll make the NBC stations better--I don't think there's any doubt about that."

The Comcast execs overseeing NBC have pledged to put the resources into the stations required to turn them around. Staab will report to Ted Harbert, NBC Broadcasting chairman. When Staab's hiring was announced, Harbert cited her for "placing a premium on creating quality local news that resonates with viewers," and said NBC will "continue to invest in our stations and establish them as leaders in their markets."

Those who know Staab describe her management style as strong, inclusive, smart and very competitive--particularly after nine years of hard battles in the Bay Area.

"She's very strategic," said David Smith, CEO of consulting firm SmithGeiger. "She does not shoot from the hip--she lays out a plan, and executes the plan. She's very thought-out. Her skills certainly address what needs to be worked on at NBC."