Saturday, April 30, 2011

NBCU Chief, Steve Burke, Sees Synergy As A Symphony

A terrific article in today's Wall Street Journal highlights Steve Burke's plans to add more synergy to the company. And while synergy strikes some with a negative connotation, he uses words like "symphony" to describe his cross-marketing efforts. "While other media companies are breaking apart to streamline, Mr. Burke is fixated on strengthening ties between assets as diverse as theme parks and cable channels like CNBC to pump up interest in NBCU's franchises."

One of the hardest things for a corporate culture to do is work together. Individual businesses work very hard to protect their fiefdoms, sometimes at the expense of the other business lines. Sharing and collaborating when viewed by companies as a zero sum game means that one unit loses for another to win. Thus building synergy among different business units is often a struggle. It takes strong leadership at the top with teams tasked with developing cross-marketing tactics across units. For when different units collaborate and play well together, the result, as Burke notes, is like a symphony, and the result can be a whole that is actually greater than the sum of it's parts.

Simple to say but extremely difficult to implement. That Burke is pushing the process early on is admirable and seems to have yielded early positive results. They include The Golf Channel - NBC Sports tie in, the promotion of Universal Pictures "Hop" with NBC, and the marketing of NBC's new singing competition, "The Voice".

This synergy strategy is against the grain of what other media companies have done to date. In fact, a number have gone as far as divesting themselves. "Several conglomerates have even re-shaped their empires, abandoning sprawling corporate models. In 2006, Viacom Inc. split into two separate firms, CBS Corp. that covered broadcast TV, radio and book-publishing and Viacom that kept most cable TV and cinema assets. Time Warner Inc. followed suit, spinning off AOL Inc. and Time Warner Cable Inc. in 2009." In addition, Cablevision is spinning Rainbow Media Holdings (to be renamed AMC Networks) off into a separate company as well later this year. As these other companies have had difficult times building synergy across their business units, divesting may have been their only recourse. For NBCU and their parent Comcast, it will be a huge challenge to maintain a synergy approach, but if accomplished will present them with a wonderful "Symphony".