NBC Innovates By Questioning Industry Conventions

31 January 08

2008-01-31_nbclogo1.jpegTV studios are in a really bad crunch. The writer’s strike continues unabated. New media is eating into their advertising revenue. TiVo fans conveniently skip commercial breaks. It’s becoming increasingly hard to predict audience taste, and hit TV shows are rarer than ever.

So, when push comes to shove, companies begin desperately to look for new ways to innovate and cut costs. NBC recently announced that it is spending too much money on high-budget pilots of new shows. Pilots – 2-3 fully scripted and produced episodes – used to cost $2-$3 million per episode. Now, it starts at $8 million. It doesn’t help that pilots rarely succeed and few go on to become full series.

NBC says they plan on looking at more fully written “first episode” scripts, and approve the ones they like directly into full-length series. It’s a radical change in the way studios operate.

This change, of course, has a number of implications on how NBC will fill and manage their pipelines (these are, after all, the studio’s products). Ans there are innovation lessons for all of us –

First, it forces NBC to look and evaluate many more scripts because they’ll be making significant investments in just a few. That’s an invaluable lesson in innovation – pick your best ideas, and focus your resources on them. Don’t spread your resources over too many projects – you’ll only do a half-baked job across all of them.

Second, because NBC is committing to a longer-term series at the get-go, it has to let all the episodes run before pulling the plug. This actually forces NBC to be a little more patient, and watch how a series plays out. Experts say that this is a good thing. Historically, studios have been known to make harsh and quick judgments and pull shows off the air after just a couple of episodes. Now, some shows can afford to gain ground a little slowly, rather than be instant hits. The moral when it comes to innovation? Don’t be quick to suffocate an idea. A little patience can go a long way. Give it some breathing room, and you might have a big winner.

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Ni Hao, Kai Lan

30 January 08

Ni Hao, Kai Lan

Ni Hao, readers (that means “Hello, readers” in Mandarin). No, I’m not a native Mandarin speaker, but I learned the phrase after stumbling on a new television show scheduled to debut on Nick Jr. next week. The show, Ni Hao, Kai Lan, is a “play along, think-along series that weaves together Chinese language and culture, preschool-relatable stories, and interactivity” with Kai-lan as the animated protagonist.

The show is Dora the Exporer-esque, only instead of weaving in Spanish language, viewers will pick up some basics of Mandarin.  This program will go a step further than Dora, however, in that it will weave in more cultural themes. From the show’s website:

Ni Hao, Kai-lan is the next generation of preschool television programming that introduces the psychology of biculturalism. If Dora and Diego popularized bilingualism, Kai-lan will weave together being bilingual and bicultural. Ni Hao, Kai-lan reinforces the idea that being bicultural and bilingual is being American. The show will familiarize the viewing audience with elements of Chinese and Chinese American cultures to promote multicultural understanding in the next generation and goes beyond featuring “culture” as only ethnic food and festivals. Instead, it celebrates growing up in an intergenerational family, having friends from diverse backgrounds, and “habits of the heart” that are Chinese American.

I’m particularly fond of the line: being bicultural and bilingual is being American.  What an positive message to be sending out to young children, especially considering the growth of multicultural families in the United States. Learn more at Nick Jr., or catch the show’s premier on February 7th.