the lesson from the screw-up on the Zucker Experiment at NBC – do not screw-up with the audience
the screw-up at NBC on “The Tonight Show that involved jay leno and conan o’brien is getting unscrewed. or at least that is what NBC is hoping it is trying to do.
we think it is such an amazing story that it could have very well been written for a drama series aired on tv and could have won them awards and a top rating. not even reality shows could top the way this story started, evolved, twisted and got screwed-up.
there is a nasty question that is left after reading the whole story – how can one of the country’s top tv networks, ran by highly paid executives with all those smarts, salaries and bonuses screw up so badly?
when you get some answers to that question, one more question pops up that takes you back to where you started – NBC’s bread and butter rest in a very large part to satisfying the audience, why did they suck at reading the minds and preferences of their audience? sure, they have writers, producers and stars that pull in the ratings and ad revenues but all that is worth nothing if they are not masters of the mind of the audience.
this all started when the venerable tv station launched the Zucker Experiment launched by NBC chief Jeff Zucker who decided months ago to move jay leno into an earlier time slot, the 10 pm slot which is prime time. the thinking was the tv station will save a lot of production money by removing all the drama shows occupying that prime time slot. apparently the production cost of a talk show like jay leno’s is much cheaper than that of drama shows.
together with this move, conan o’brien was moved to take over the tonight show that jay leno was going to vacate. at the time of the move, the tonight show with jay leno was a top rater during the time slot.
after a few month’s of the Zucker Experiment, network affiliates complained on the side-effects of the experiment – they were losing revenue due to a loss of audience. NBC has said jay leno from a show quality standpoint was doing well but the dynamics of the change and the available choices from competitive tv sations for the audience, jay leno at an earlier time slot was not getting it done.
the result of the Zucker Experiment is one lesson every brand manager knows – DO NOT BE A SUCKER TO CONSUMERS. every brand manager learns this lesson very early in his/her career – screw up the product (formula or packaging) and you lose your consumers. more importantly, when you screw the product, change its formula or packaging based on a desire to reduce product cost (to improve profits), you can be asking for a loss of market share.
every product manager knows the product or the formula is most important to the success of a brand. a reduction in cost is a most dangerous thing to do as that usually involves a change in quality and product performance which can result to a loss in market share.
and yet this is exactly what the Zucker Experiment did. it is an experiment that made the audience as suckers. NBC seemed to have ignored the consumers and focused too much on costs and profits.
what they committed is an epic fail in marketing 101 – screw with a number 1 brand, the tonight show was number 1 with jay leno in it by changing it’s formula by putting in conan o’brien in the formula all based on an intent to cut on costs and increase profits, all done with the audience not being considered in the mix.
NBC simply failed at applying what they are supposed to know best – being the master of the audience (consumer). clearly, the Zucker Experiment sucked and henceforth, we think a new phrase will be added to the launguage used in the tv industry – “Don’t be such a zucker!”