Once seemingly invulnerable, 'Today' is now a challenge for NBC and Comcast

Ann Curry has an emotional goodbye with cohost Al Roker (left) and actors Joe Manganiello and Channing Tatum (right).PETER KRAMER / Associated Press
Ann Curry has an emotional goodbye with cohost Al Roker (left) and actors Joe Manganiello and Channing Tatum (right).PETER KRAMER / Associated Press
Posted: June 30, 2012

On the same day that Ann Curry tearfully told viewers she would step down as cohost of Today, a broadcast-TV outage at NBC 10 knocked the long-running No. 1-rated morning show off the air — and off cable — for about 45 minutes in the Philadelphia area.

"We had a problem with our signal," NBC 10 spokeswoman Kathleen Burke said. "It was a local issue. It was not coming from New York. People in Nebraska could still see the show."

But the two events — one in New York and the other in Philadelphia — seemed to highlight the complexities and vagaries of running a news and entertainment conglomerate for NBC's corporate parent, Comcast Corp.

When Comcast acquired control of NBCUniversal from General Electric in early 2011, Today was seemingly invulnerable, a crown jewel for NBC that had dominated its morning slot for years. Eighteen months later, Today's supremacy is being challenged by ABC's rejuvenated Good Morning America.

Analysts say the fear for NBC is that the rating's pendulum, once it moves, could swing against Today, with economics consequences. Today produced $485 million in national TV advertising in 2011, according to New York research firm Kantar Media, up from $455 million in 2010. If ratings fall behind Good Morning America, NBC could see erosion of advertising growth and a flight by viewers.

"There's a risk that wasn't there several months ago," Jon Swallen, chief research officer with Kantar Media, said Thursday.

Curry apologized Thursday for being a "sob sister" in announcing her new role at NBC.

"They are giving me some fancy new titles," she told national viewers, noting that she would be reporting news. "For all you who saw me as a groundbreaker, I am sorry I could not carry the ball across the finish line, but I did try." Her replacement was not announced.

On Wednesday, NBCUniversal chief executive Steve Burke made a passing reference to Today's travails at a New York press event detailing NBC's Olympics coverage plans. He said the network would use the Olympics to "revitalize" Today.

Prime time has been a disaster for NBC for years, which has made Today's No. 1 rating in the morning all the more important.

"They are not the dominant player they were," said Brad Adgate, senior vice president and director of research at Horizon Media. "It has become more competitive, and they don't want it to be competitive."

Contact Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.

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