Cable and broadcast networks accounted for $18 billion of NBCUniversal’s total revenue of $25.4 billion in 2014. Cable networks made $5.3 billion from content distribution and $3.5 billion from advertising, while the broadcast networks pulled in $5.88 billion from advertising, $1.57 billion from content licensing, and $1 billion from other sources — mainly fees for retransmission consent from affiliates and the sale of DVDs and electronic content.
“Advertising revenue increased in 2014 primarily due to revenue associated with our broadcast of the 2014 Sochi Olympics,” Comcast noted in the 2015 annual report.
Founded as a network of radio stations in 1926, NBC became a television network operated by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) after WWII. In 1986 it was bought by the multinational giant General Electric. In 2011, GE sold a majority share in NBC — by then known as NBCUniversal — to Comcast Corporation, the largest US cable operator. Comcast completed its acquisition of NBC in 2013. In addition to NBC, the network also owns the political news channel MSNBC, the financial news channel CNBC, and the entertainment channels Bravo, USA Network, SyFy, and E!, among others.
Brian L. Roberts
The head of Comcast has been called ’Pennsylvania’s most powerful businessman’. Forbes estimates his wealth at $1.5 billion. Roberts personally has more Democratic sympathies, though it says Comcast has supported politicians from both parties as long as they were on the side of its business interests. The company spent over $11 billion on lobbying in 2015, the lowest amount in the last five years.
The British journalist, who previously worked at ITN, is the boss at NBC News. In 2011, she married John Toker, the UK Cabinet Office’s director of communications for security and intelligence.
Turness was brought on as President of NBC News in May 2013, to bolster the flagging ratings of Meet the Press and Today and to end the “boys’ club” culture at NBC. She has frequently clashed with senior staff, including Brian Williams.
As both shows continuing to struggle, Turness was also criticized over NBC’s handling of the Brian Williams scandal. Her role and influence significantly diminished in April 2015, when Andrew Lack became chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group after just six weeks heading the US government media board.
Under Andrew “Andy” Lack’s presidency in the 1990s, NBC News became a news leader in the US. Lack left NBC to head Sony Music Entertainment and Bloomberg Media Group, and in early 2015 became the first-ever CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a federal agency overseeing the government-funded US media.
“We are facing a number of challenges from entities like Russia Today which is out there pushing a point of view, the Islamic State in the Middle East and groups like Boko Haram,” he told the New York Times in January, drawing criticism.
After just six weeks on the job, Lack came back to NBC as Chairman of the News Group, establishing closer ties between NBC News and MSNBC over the objections of Turness. Lack is also credited with giving Brian Williams an opportunity at MSNBC, after the disgraced anchor served out his six-month suspension.
Over to MSNBC, NBCUniversal’s so-called antidote to Fox News. One of its most visible and vocal presenters is Lawrence O’Donnell. The host of ’The Last Word’ was the staff director of the United State Senate Committee for Finance from 1993 to 1995 and worked for Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a former US ambassador to the United Nations. A self-styled socialist, he also wrote 16 episodes of the acclaimed drama ’The West Wing’.
O’Donnell’s penchant for trying to get the last word has often landed him in trouble. In July 2015, he got into an argument with ‘Morning Joe’ host Joe Scarborough over Donald Trump’s salary for the NBC reality series ‘The Apprentice’ – only to apologize to Trump that very same day.
Favoring Obama over Clinton
Amid the 2008 Democratic primaries, rolling news and views channel MSNBC was criticized for apparently favoring Barack Obama over the other main challenger Hillary Clinton. Later, while covering the actual Presidential contest, it was noted that its proportion of negative stories concerning Obama was only 14 percent versus a 73 percent share for bad news about Republican John McCain — a fairly clear bias.
‘Invented’ Mormon faith
O’Donnell caused a mighty ruckus in 2012, when he described the Mormon faith as “an invented religion.” In 2007, he had said about Mitt Romney: “(He) comes from a religion that was founded by a criminal who was anti-American, pro-slavery, and a rapist.”
Once Romney secured the Republican Party nomination for President, Roman Catholic O’Donnell intensified his attacks. “(It was) created by a guy in upstate New York in 1830 when he got caught having sex with the maid and explained to his wife that God told him to do it,” he argued.
O’Donnell and NBC later apologized.
Also in 2012, O’Donnell hinted that presidential candidate Ron Paul had never served in the US military. This was a lie. In fact, Paul served as a flight surgeon in the US Air Force and Air National Guard in the 1960s, and had received more donations from active duty military personnel than all of the other election candidates combined.
Brian Williams’ embellishing of stories
Brian Williams anchored NBC Nightly News for nearly 14 years, following Tom Brokaw’s retirement in December 2004. For years he told a story about being aboard a helicopter that came under fire during the 2003 US invasion of Iraq; in January 2015, one of the soldiers on board questioned the story, which unraveled quickly. As Williams claimed he “misremembered” the incident, other instances of embellishments came to haunt him: SEAL Team Six denied Williams had accompanied them to Baghdad; a suicide at the New Orleans Superdome he claimed to have witnessed turned out to be hearsay; and he was not in Berlin the night the Wall came down. All in all, a NBC investigation found at least 11 instances of Williams embellishing his stories. Williams was suspended without pay for six months, and lost the anchor job to Lester Holt.
Cenk Uygur & Phil Donahue
Saying goodbye to people with opposing views proved a challenge to the channel. Cenk Uygur was hired by MSNBC amid the growing popularity of ’The Young Turks’ YouTube channel, which has garnered over 1.6 billion views. He was originally given a prime-time slot, but then NBC attempted to shift him around the schedule. Uygur resisted and was fired. He claimed that MSNBC President Phil Griffin told him that “people in Washington” did not like Uygur’s tone. MSNBC denied that, replying “We did have numerous conversations with Cenk about his style, not substance.”
However, this was small potatoes compared to the 2003 incident with Phil Donahue, in the run up to the Iraq War. Donahue’s show was MSNBC’s highest rated slot in February of that year but was suddenly canceled “because of low ratings.” It later emerged that Donahue was canned due to concerns that his anti-war agenda would have consequences for the network in a time of fervent martial lust, dressed up as patriotism.