Final Word

NBC Universal's Beth Comstock on the what-I-want-when-I-want-it viewer—and frickin' impatience.

Beth Comstock

President, Integrated Media
NBC Universal

Not long ago, Comstock, 46, was running marketing at General Electric; we have her to thank for "ecomagination." She moved to GE's NBC Universal unit 18 months ago, and just got a new gig that combines ad sales and digital media across the TV network, cable channels, and film studio. Want to stream Heroes, read the interactive novel, then bid online for artwork from the show? Thank Comstock for all that, too.

The economics of television used to be simple. Do you understand how to make money today, when I can watch 30 Rock pretty much anytime?

We understand it a lot better than we used to. Digital media allow us to open up new windows without the cannibalization you might expect. So yes, we can offer 30 Rock in preview, then on-air, then streaming, then iTunes, then mobile, and then syndication. We've done the modeling. It looks like we'll make more money.

How do advertisers reckon with this new world?

Some know what they want, some less so. But now, every marketer is doing digital, not because it's trendy, but because they have to. Buying groups have created units called "sight, sound, and motion" [to work across media]. They expect us to zero in on targeted consumers: What do we know about them, and how do we reach them?

How are viewing habits changing?

We've had 60 million streams [of TV shows] at NBC.com. A lot of those are repeat viewers. Others are time-shifting. They're place-shifting, too, with iTunes or on phones.

And does that work for you?

It has to. If consumers are in control, they're going to figure out how they want to watch. We have to find the right solution.

What's the next new thing?

More personal expression [by viewers], the desire to be involved in the storytelling. Like, SMS-text to vote in a reality show, or watch Heroes and dial a phone number. That stuff is so rudimentary; we'll look back one day and say, "We were so cute then!"

All this implies huge cultural change. How is NBC Universal coping?

This space is frenetic and chaotic, and we're constantly trying to get out of our own way. With success, you get a bit more confident. But we still have to be more focused and more disciplined.

Are you still, as you once said of yourself, "frickin' impatient"?

Yes. And I'm fearful. I'm constantly scanning the landscape. What's the next new thing? Who's going to get there first? This business is hypersensitive like that. You have to pick a path, keep to it, and feel good about it. Second-guessers will end up with more than ulcers.

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