The transition to digital broadcast of television programming is not the only big transition scheduled for TV in 2009. On June 1, 2009, Conan O’Brien is slated to take over from Jay Leno at the big desk on NBC’s late night “Tonight Show”. But few were prepared for the big news that broke yesterday. NBC has convinced Leno to stay on with the network, with a new show that is slated to run from 10 to 11 PM Eastern, five days a week.
Yes, Jay Leno will now fill one third of the primetime programming slots on NBC weeknights. The network has certainly been struggling in recent years in the evening time slots, but this is a massive surrender. The new show will cost far less to produce than “ER” or “Law and Order”, so it will certainly help the network’s bottom line. But it is an open acknowledgement that the TV-viewing audience has become increasingly fragmented, making it harder to deliver eyeballs to the advertisers who must allocate their dwindling pool of marketing dollars. Cable networks have successfully drawn viewers to original dramas and other specialized programming. As the Internet delivery of video content gains momentum, advertising for traditional network broadcasts will become even harder to find.
So while NBC’s decision to start something new with a primetime talk show, it sounds more like the end of the era where large national networks dominated the broadcast video marketplace.