What's covid-life like for an NBC executive producer? Tanya Musgrave chats with Tom Wentworth, an executive producer at NBC partnership group. Tom shares the shift that is happening with content production and how advertisers are responding.
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Tanya Musgrave (00:00):
Hey, we're here with There to Hear it is a Cola eight podcast and I have with us here today, Tom Wentworth. Please introduce yourself.
Tom Wentworth (00:13):
Sure. My name's Tom Wentworth. I'm currently the executive producer for the NBC Creative Partnerships Group, based in Los Angeles. Our group works with advertisers and brands who want to align with NBC primetime shows. So anytime you see a brand inside of the Voice or This Is Us or any of our comedy shows, whether it's inside the show or in branded content in commercial time, we work with those agencies and those partners to develop the content, to make it and then put it on air.
Tanya Musgrave (00:42):
So, with this wave of COVID, how has it affected your day to day? What does your day to day look like now?
Tom Wentworth (00:52):
Yeah, it's basically the same except for one huge thing. I get up, I do my stuff, I walk my dog and then instead of going to the office, I walk five feet to my dining room table and set up the computer there. And that's kind of where my day unfolds.
Tanya Musgrave (01:08):
Is it slower? Is it, I mean... The people that I have been able to talk with, I mean, they're pretty much in upheaval, in shock still, and it's like nothing is moving forward in their company or it's really, really hard for the brain to kind of crank the gears to get back in shape.
Tom Wentworth (01:29):
There's a little bit of shell shock, but there's also a little bit of a self preservation that people feel like they need to continue business as usual. And everyone has a very different sense of what that is, which is very frustrating. So, we have a lot... We had five huge campaigns in development that most were going to be shooting in April and May, all at different times, all different types of creative and different needs. So we had regular status meetings and we had things to accomplish and we have our regular calls with the shows and with the legal team, just all the infrastructure was still in place, so everyone was still joining calls and operating as usual with the exception of, we just don't know what's going on. And so we would start passing these deadlines. I'm like, "Well now let's push this deadline." And now we would get, a couple of weeks ago we would hear some guidance from federal government here and now California changed this and now New York changed this and so, it was a daily churn of us just checking with different people, like what can we actually do?
Tom Wentworth (02:27):
And several of us here on my team felt early on, like there's absolutely no way that any of these projects are going to move forward in the current state. But because everyone has their own way of interpreting the world around them, there were a lot of people that just kept pushing, almost on a daily basis of like, "Well we'll find out tomorrow." Yeah,
Tanya Musgrave (02:47):
I mean everything has pretty much screeched to a halt. Like all production and all of that fun stuff. So what happens with all those projects? Because all of our projects have screeched to a halt too.
Tom Wentworth (02:57):
So again, there were some living in the fantasy world of like, "Oh well things might be different in April, so let's keep developing." And one by one projects have been either being canceled, being postponed to the fall or shifting into the virtual space. I really give credit to the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon for being one of the first in the industry of testing that from the basement production strategy. They did a 10 minute video that they posted on YouTube one night and the next morning I was on a call with our entire ad sales organization that, it's about 1200 people that joined the call and they were touting, it was such a huge hit online that they were already planning to shoot another one that day with Lin Manuel Miranda as the first guest and they were going to run it on broadcast. The first 10 minutes were going to air on broadcast right before a rerun.
Tom Wentworth (03:47):
So they were pivoting that quickly. Okay, people are enjoying the format, this is working, let's put it on air and see how it works there. So, we're literally seeing what's happening in the marketplace internally, huddling, figuring this how can we continue to incorporate that into the new business as usual? Getting it out to brands, getting sign offs and then getting them on the air within a couple of days.
Tanya Musgrave (04:10):
Wow. So it's actually produced more of a flurry than any kind of stall?
Tom Wentworth (04:15):
Such a flurry. Now I would say a lot of the flurry is like 10 feet off the ground where it's not going to touch... It won't have feet, but a couple of these things are actually grabbing traction. One of the cool things that we've been able to do, one of our partners for the Voice, we're supposed to be doing a live shoot with the former winner and some people obviously as time went on that just became less and less likely, especially, we just heard what the format of the Voice's live episodes are going to be, which again completely cut our creative off.
Tom Wentworth (04:48):
But we were able to pivot into, again, this virtual space. So, we're basically taking the spirit of what we were doing and then reinvisioning how that would live in the world that we're living in now with everyone being remote and being terrified of human contact. And what we'd come up with is something that's still feels very on brand, it's now feels very relevant to the time and I think it's going to be really neat. We actually got a green light today to start on that, so we'll probably be quote shooting that mid April and that'll air beginning of May.
Tanya Musgrave (05:18):
So how many of these types of projects do you see moving forward like that in that kind of space?
Tom Wentworth (05:24):
It's hard to say, the big X factor is like there's three different... What I'm hearing is the three different buckets of advertisers reactions right now.
Tom Wentworth (05:33):
The first and most obvious one is the advertisers who their business businesses decimated and they're trying to just pull advertising money as quickly as possible. Then there's ones who they're not hit as bad, but they're having a hiccup in distribution or specific stores are shut down or just feel insensitive to show people shopping. And so they're looking to push creative a little bit down the road. And then there's a select few advertisers and probably actually a bunch, but I've heard of a select few through our grapevine that the demand for their product that you can buy in a grocery store is up three 200 to 300% and so because they're doing so well on the sales revenue front, they don't see a need to actually advertise because the crisis and the scarcity and the panic is actually marketing for it.
Tanya Musgrave (06:21):
Yeah. I think the only ad that I feel that I've seen that is relevant to what people are going through right now, it was a Red Bull ad and it was almost shocking to scroll by and see it. I'm just like, "Oh, there's an ad for something that was made for this time that we're in right now." And it made me think about, for instance, the people who are being hit the hardest. Obviously your small businesses and your mom and pop shops that don't have necessarily a lot of the... Kind of like the NBC sky castle type of thing where it's the smaller, more locally based companies that are struggling with advertising and stuff. People in larger companies, salaried jobs, they're starting to have talks of layoffs and it's like nobody's safe. And has that ever been particularly, because this is in the broadcast and entertainment industry, has this ever been broached yet? Have you heard any-
Tom Wentworth (07:28):
Oh yeah. It's the top question on everyone's minds. I mean, I'm very fortunate right now to still have a job that I can do from home, but the forecast is just completely murky right now. You look at a company like NBC Universal, and it's not just television and film, but it's theme parks and it's consumer products, it's merchandising and there's so many different revenue streams that make up the whole corporate portfolio and they really do treat it like a portfolio. But when so many, and it's designed that way that a specific vertical can take a monetary hit and the company can survive.
Tom Wentworth (08:07):
The problem is when you have so many verticals under attack at the exact same time, who knows what is going to happen. Disney last week and then NBC Universal this week actually sold off some securities. I think NBC Universal raised like $4 billion just to have some cash in the bank. It sounds like it's a worst case scenario. I've talked to a couple people that have seemed like they know what they're talking about and part of the huge... So yes, there's huge corporate conglomerates and then there's the medium sized companies, then there's the small companies that are really going payroll cycle, payroll cycle. On the huge conglomerate end of the scale, they're operating not off of revenue that came in this quarter, they're operating on a five year plan where what we... The operating cashflow this year is actually in the bank already.
Tom Wentworth (08:58):
And so I don't think the major corporations are going to crumble anytime soon. I think everyone has to be looking down the road and what is life after this and everyone has to be ready for business to ramp back up into production. So instead of thinking of layoffs now, I think a lot of the companies are thinking of what is the recovery plan coming out the other side of this, because if you dismantle your very carefully created machine, the second that we get the green light again you can't be competitive in the marketplace. So, it's a really tricky decision and balance that these companies have to make. What do we have to do right now to survive and how do we have to position ourselves to be successful when the immediate crisis is over?
Tanya Musgrave (09:41):
So in this time then, I mean some of my questions don't really apply then because it seems like the flurry of action is very, very much underway and there is much to do in your particular sector of work. That it's ramped up everything.
Tom Wentworth (09:59):
The word shock is, that you used earlier is very appropriate. Everyone is in shock and everyone responds to shock in different ways. And I think currently a lot, especially my ecosystem, its response to shock is to try as many new angles as... is to create that flurry to try to see what kind of comes out of it.
Tanya Musgrave (10:22):
Yeah, what sticks.
Tom Wentworth (10:23):
We've seen some things come out, but I don't know if it's worth the amount of time other than just people feeling busy and feeling like they're in control of their world. The other thing is flurry is not really, without results is not sustainable for a long period of time. So, whereas we've been in this thing for two weeks, it'll be a very different conversation in two months I think.
Tanya Musgrave (10:46):
Yeah. It's basically just hearsay at this point. But what differences do you foresee? I know that there... You said at the very beginning it's going to change everything. How do you see that happening?
Tom Wentworth (10:59):
Well as we saw, there was like a week where one by one things were getting canceled that we just couldn't imagine life without. "Oh my God, NAB is being canceled. Wow, that movie is being pushed back. Oh, upfronts are being canceled." And the more that they started getting canceled, the more you started seeing people look for alternatives or just starting to rethink the whole process of when again, when we're on the other side of the crisis, how will this thing return? I think the model of television upfronts is one of the biggest things that for so long has existed because it has existed. If you're not familiar, the television industry does every year, every single network or broadcast entity has some kind of upfront event where they bring advertisers into a visible place and they show them, "Here's all the cool things we're going to do this year. Give us X amount of money, give us a commitment for X amount of money for the year and we'll put it in all these places."
Tom Wentworth (12:00):
And it's a big, usually a big flashing in person event that's really expensive and it's just this traditional thing that exists because it's always been done this way. And I don't think any large company wanted to be the first one to say, "Well, we're not doing an in person upfront this year." Because you miss out on that in person networking with the people who are making the decisions, even if it's not really deemed... Even if it's deemed archaic, no one wanted to be the first one to say, "We're not doing it that way." So what this did was it completely leveled the playing field without anyone having to voluntarily make the choice to say, "Okay, you're in-person, upfront, it's not possible. How are you going to address it?"
Tom Wentworth (12:42):
And it's not been approved yet or announced widely, so I can't say it right now, but I've heard what the idea is for the NBC Universal upfront will be and it's actually really cool. But it never would have happened without this kind of change. And also if this thing goes forward or if NBC Universal goes forward the way that I've heard it will be changing it from a more exclusive event to something that's much more broadly available to the wider public.
Tanya Musgrave (13:06):
Tom Wentworth (13:08):
That's what I think, that's the biggest thing that's going to happen here. I think we're going to be seeing a lot of breakdowns in the traditional having to do a thing at a place and we've kind of proven that the world can be virtual. I know the working from home thing has been a huge controversy in corporate and smaller business life because a lot of people, management wants that sense of control and they want to know where people and that they're... you're not doing your job, if you're not physically in your seat or in that meeting where I can see you, and this has completely changed that.
Tom Wentworth (13:43):
We've also, in my group, our leadership structure has typically been very siloed and because of this crisis, they've started doing daily video conferences where anyone can join. But it's the leaders who are on video. And so now, for two weeks I've actually seen senior leadership, which that hasn't been done before. Which they keep expressing like this is actually really nice, this is cool. So, I just feel like the world is... A lot of the inequality or inequality is the wrong word. A lot of just kind of like the power factor-
Tanya Musgrave (14:20):
Tom Wentworth (14:20):
... and the dynamic and this kind of uneven balance of who can and who can't I think is going to be, just because of physical space and proximity. I think there's going to be flattened and a lot of the world's going to take much more of a virtual or a remote standpoint.
Tanya Musgrave (14:36):
It has been a lot more accessible for anybody to create a show if they wanted to. But you're saying that this even flattens it more so for instance, like Jimmy Fallon doing his show at home with his daughter climbing on his back and like still bringing in the viewership. Do you feel like...
Tom Wentworth (15:02):
To that point, we are a little bit maybe content snobs or people who make content. Maybe we're a little bit, we are the snobs in this where we spend so much time and money and resources creating, let's say the Tonight Show to look a specific way, but if consumers are reacting to it on just the same level of Jimmy's sitting in his living room like why are we doing the other thing? Because we think it looks better, but does the consumer care? It's breaking down the entry points. We've seen almost any celebrity now can act... Like someone was pointing out that Angela from the Office and her husband do a cooking show from their home. What's to say like that can't be a valid show that she just starts doing on her own and gets advertising funding and you completely bypass the platform or you bypass the network because we have an open platform now of content.
Tom Wentworth (16:01):
I hope the overall expectation of quality of content doesn't go down because people just get used to this and we lose that craft section that makes things look good, that makes things interesting, that that makes things dynamic.
Tanya Musgrave (16:16):
Well, in some ways I don't feel like you have to worry about that too much. I mean, I think with the age of Hulu and Netflix and the shows that they produce specifically for those ones that you watch on your laptop or your phone, it has changed the landscape of the movies that go to theater and are actually experienced there with other people on a big screen. But I feel like that craft is still appreciated quite a lot. And when you think of 1917 and I was telling everybody, you have to see that in the theater. Go to see it in the theater.
Tom Wentworth (16:53):
Sure. I'm just hoping like 1917 doesn't become, you have to go see it because it's one of the only things because so much of television and online content is produced in this way because content creators are like, "Oh well we don't have to spend as much."
Tanya Musgrave (17:12):
I think it's going to be an interesting thing once this particular gen Z becomes your big buyers. Because if you think about how they interact with their celebrities, it's all on here, you know?
Tom Wentworth (17:31):
And it has been for a while.
Tanya Musgrave (17:32):
Yeah. So I mean-
Tom Wentworth (17:34):
It's almost like we're being forced into their world.
Tanya Musgrave (17:37):
You sound like an old fogy now. Crotchety old man, "Get off my lawn."
Tom Wentworth (17:42):
Well, I'm not saying, I mean it's just... It's like the younger generation have been the ones that have been creating this world that we've all kind of now found as our technological lifeboat. A lot of people for the first time are stumbling into these platforms that have existed for a very long time. We're just now normalizing it as, "Oh no, we found this new thing." It's not new.
Tanya Musgrave (18:06):
But, I feel like there's still going to be a bit of that magic there that people will want to flock to. They want to see Jimmy Fallon in person. The only thing is what's the cost analysis? Like what's the balance of investing in a show and a live show if again his living room sessions are just as successful.
Tom Wentworth (18:29):
Tanya Musgrave (18:29):
So are there any words of advice or thoughts that you'd have on the state of the business, but words of advice specifically for people who are out there who are feeling a bit more of the uncertainty and anxiety?
Tom Wentworth (18:43):
By the way, anything I'm about to say right now, like I'm also like saying it to myself because in this setting I'm like... Several people have told me, "Wow, you sound so optimistic and calm." And I'm like, "Right now, I'm playing an optimistic, calm person on television. And then I have my moments where like I'm also freaking out and..." So I'm just prefacing. But one thing that I truly believe as this is the first time that everyone truly is going through the same thing at the same time. And so I know a lot of people are feeling creatively burnt out or like something that they have been developing has just completely died or they just are at a loss of where to go.
Tom Wentworth (19:22):
And again, I remind everyone's going through this at the same time. So, when we come out on the other side of this, it's not like you got derailed and now you're behind, everyone's in the same place. Everyone that had a project in development, got frozen. Everyone who was working on this specific trade or this craft was stopped dead in their tracks. So, it's going to take a little bit time for everyone to kind of come out of the thaw.
Tom Wentworth (19:46):
So hopefully that's a little encouraging. People are at home right now and we're seeing broadcast viewership spike 30 or 40% across the board. So, people are always going to want things to watch. People always will understand the quality of a good story. So, I'm very encouraged by already in two weeks how we've seen creativity and entrepreneurship find new paths and new avenues. So I feel like it's incumbent on the creative community to take whatever time people need at the moment and be good to themselves. And again just, we're in shock and so it's okay to wear the same sweatpants for three days in a row and just chill. But at the same time like look at everything from a new perspective. Right now is the time when, because there's a lot of things, like I was saying before about the upfronts, there's so many industry institutional things that have been the way that... That are because they've been that way and people are just like, "Well that's the way it is." And now is the exact time for all of those norms to be up in the air.
Tom Wentworth (20:54):
Everything's going to be requestioned, creativity has such an open landscape and if it's a good idea and if it's feasible and if it's a marketable, I think a lot of people are a lot more open to it right now. Another thing is talent actors, well known people are sitting at home right now. Everyone's in the same boat. So, if someone has an idea that involves talent, that also kind of feels like it's working towards making humankind a little bit better, now would be the time to reach out to the talent agent and say, "I have this thing. Here's an ask, do you think so-and-so would be interested?" You never know what you can do right now with someone sitting on their couch waiting for an offer to come in.
Tanya Musgrave (21:37):
Yeah, that's very true.
Tom Wentworth (21:39):
And just the last thing, I was on a conference call with the NBC [inaudible 00:21:46] station and the general manager of the NBC station here ended his Q and A call by saying that in all of these uncertain times, anxiety and gratitude can't occupy the same space. And that just like was like a tattoo behind my eyelids because I spent so much time having the news on and just like playing out all these scenarios of what if, what if, what if to the point where I worked myself up and it feels very frustrating. But just that idea of instead of being anxious about the things that I can't control or can predict, but focusing on the things that I'm grateful for in the moment have, I think it's made it better this week than last week for me.
Tanya Musgrave (22:29):
That's amazing. Well, I appreciate your optimism. I appreciate your practical outlook as well. I'm starting to see little seedlings of that productivity in there. All right, yeah, maybe there is something that I can be working on right now.
Tom Wentworth (22:46):
There's a difference between being good to yourself and just letting yourself completely be lazy and squander the now. So yes, this Friday and the weekend I'm going to, who knows if I will shower. The weekend I'm going to... But come Monday morning, I'm going to get up. I'm going to put my shoes and sit at my kitchen table and kind of attack the day. So there's that.
Tanya Musgrave (23:11):
Thanks for being on our podcast. We really appreciate your time.
Tom Wentworth (23:13):
Thanks Tanya, I appreciate what you guys are doing.