Primping the plumage at Peacock

The work of NBC's Peacock Productions can currently be found in 290 territories. SVP and GM Sharon Scott and VP of Development Benjamin Ringe would like to see the company extend that reach, particularly in tough economic times. Realscreen spoke with them both about the American marketplace and the differences between producing for network and cable.
October 27, 2008

You both come from non-fiction and news backgrounds, to some degree, how does your approach to factual differ at Peacock than your previous work?

Sharon Scott: I have a news background so I had many years of local news and NBC news and then went to Dateline. That changed the world for me a little bit because it’s in the news division but it competes with entertainment. In primetime, you can tell a news story but you’re not going to win over House or Grey’s Anatomy, so it’s really about the story and keeping an audience through a story even though it’s real and it’s completely factual. That’s sort of the hybrid job and Peacock Productions is that plus we do the full range from news documentaries, to lifestyle, to reality; even corporate sponsored work and branded entertainment, but you still have to tell the story and the story is based in fact. That’s the thread.

What’s the difference between doing something for a network like NBC or a cable, specialty channel?

Scott: I think they’re becoming more the same. The bar used to be different; it still is if you do network versus cable. Cable is more raw, cable is less produced and less structured, but I think networks are seeing the success of cable and I think they’re thinking ‘okay, wait a minute, if we do things more like that maybe we’ll revive ourselves.’ So it’s merging a little bit.

When Ben came to Peacock he really broadened our scope because we had done a lot of work for MSNBC and other NBC entities, and it kind of stayed in that Dateline genre which is tell a good story but keep the facts straight and shoot it and produce it in a certain way. When Ben came and broadened the scope of what we do it became ‘how about we tell it differently, how about we tell it through someone else or shoot it differently,’ and it’s broadened in that way. It is all about how you tell a good story and engage the audience but every client is different.

Benjamin Ringe: Every client has different needs, but everyone’s chasing a rating and as cable ratings go up and networks level out and match each other, and even the budgets get closer and closer, the differences are shrinking. And the viewers too. You can’t trick a viewer. You can’t replace the skill to let a story tell itself and if you go into a focus group they see it immediately if you try to fake something if you try to make something happen that’s not real.

How will you cope with the tighter economy?

Ringe: Everything goes in cycles. It’s good and bad. As budgets come down from the networks they look for companies like ours to find any savings at all because we have so many efficiencies across the board that it works for us. Then again, for our smaller networks, their ad dollars might tighten up in a couple of months and they’ll just be seeking less originals and that will hurt. As long as you’re prepared for it. At Peacock we’ve tried to develop a system across several clients, a totally balanced portfolio. You’ll see a lot production companies will depend on one or two clients and when that goes away, that’s it. It’s kind of game over. So we’ve been very careful to spread out as far as we can and dedicate certain staff members to that client so they don’t feel the changes. As a portfolio we’re carrying a couple hundred hours a year across 20 to 25 different clients.

Scott: And we’re making a global push as well, as the US market tightens. It’s a worldwide approach to have a bunch of different clients and if this one falls down this one can pick up.

Ringe: Even with the tightening global market there are still growth markets in media, like Brazil and the Middle East. So I think it’s going to be tough times ahead but I think we just have to position ourselves to absorb it.

Scott: We have to remember and push and remind people that non-fiction is nine times out of ten much cheaper than fiction. So it could be good for companies like us in the short term when companies are really scaling back on the multi million dollar purchases. You can buy six of something in our world for the price of one.

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