NBC’s “Today” has long been part of many an American morning ritual. Starting today, however, fans of the program can truly interact with a full version of it at almost any time they want.
NBC News is launching its venerable A.M. franchise in podcast form, meaning that people who may want to know what it is going on with the show can find it at times and in ways of their own choosing, not necessarily in the 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. block it runs in each weekday on NBC. Libby Leist, the executive who oversees the ‘Today” empire, envisions commuters logging on to hear the top stories that Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb deliver at the top of the show’s first hour, many of which feature NBC News reporters on the ground in the locations where events are taking place. Those people can also listen in to hear the banter between the anchors and Craig Melvin, Al Roker and Carson Daly, or check out what happened in the program’s feature-story heavy 9 a.m. hour, or with Kotb and co-anchor Jenna Bush Hager at 10.
“There are a lot of podcast-only audiences these days, people who are interested in audio. We are hoping to gain some new listeners in audio as well as in the news and lifestyle space,” says Leist, an NBC News senior vice president, in an interview. “This is in addition to the big, broadcast loyalty group we know watches every morning.”
NBC has made a simultaneous audio broadcast of “Today” available via a channel devoted to the program on satellite-radio broadcaster SiriusXM, and allowed daily clips to surface later in the day via a bespoke streaming outlet devoted to the program. But the podcast would seem to provide a new way people interested in the show can gain access to the entire “Today” block without being tethered to its morning schedule.
A recent sample of a 7 a.m. hour made available for podcast shows the program entering the field with some already prominent audio cues. Listeners are greeted by the familiar “Today” theme, which simulates a feeling of morning fanfare. In the sample’s opening minute, Guthrie interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s pandemic expert, and Roker delivered a national weather forecast. The last few seconds tease stories that will be available in the next hour, potentially setting up additional listening. Leist believes listeners can get something out of the headlines as well as banter between the anchors and even cooking segments. Fans who want to catch up, she says, still want to hear Kotb trade quips with a guest chef like Giada De Laurentiis.
Comcast-owned NBCUniversal is betting it can find new audiences for “Today” as the traditional crowd for TV programming is increasingly drawn to streaming video made available at times of any audience member’s choosing. “Today” is an economic engine not just for NBC News, but for the entire company. There is more “Today” across weekdays and weekends, after all, than there are primetime hours on the Fox broadcast network.
“Today” generated $357.6 million in advertising in 2020, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending, up from $320.6 million in 2018 — a hike of 11.5%. And yet, its audience, like those of other morning programs on broadcast, has been slipping. “Today” reached 856,000 people between the ages of 25 and 54, the audience most desired by advertisers in news programs for the five days ended June 18, according to Nielsen data. Just a year ago, the program lured an average of 979,000 in the same category.
NBC News executives do not believe the podcast will cannibalize the show’s linear audience to a great degree, says Leist. “I think we are living in a world where people want options on how to consume their content, and this gives commuters and people running around their kitchens who may have missed the 7 a.m. hour a quick opportunity to catch up to it,” she says. With a growing array of distribution methods, she adds, “we are hopeful you can find the ‘Today Show’ wherever and whenever you want.”
The first hour of “Today” should be available for podcast adherents by 8:30 a.m. each weekday, says Leist, a schedule that allows producers to assemble the show’s feed for audio outlets. The schedule also gives the linear program a buffer of exclusivity, though, simply put, the first part of the podcast will surface online as the linear program wraps its last thirty minutes. Other hours should be made available for podcast in a similar timeframe. When the whole day is assembled, those interested will be able to pick the hour they want to hear, stripped of local weather forecasts and national commercial breaks (the podcast hours will each have two bespoke ad breaks as well as pre-roll and post-roll ads). Each broadcast hour, says Leist, should be digestible in 30-to-40-minute audio blocks.
Unhitched from the show’s A.M. environment, the podcast represents the latest step to transform “Today” into an all-day media presence, not one necessarily tied to the first hours of the morning. Other outlets are testing that notion out, too — including rival ABC, which launched a third hour of “Good Morning America” in the early afternoon. Meanwhile, NBC earlier this month launched a new “highlights” show for streaming audiences that has Kotb and Guthrie walking on-demand viewers through the best of the morning’s four hours of content.
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