Deborah Turness, who on Monday was named president of NBC News, will make the rounds at the unit Tuesday and Wednesday to meet with other top network executives as well as key producers and talent.
It will probably be the first of many visits for Turness before she officially take the reins of NBC News on Aug. 5. The almost three-month wait for Turness to start was part of the network’s agreement with her current employer -- Britain’s ITV News. Turness, who is editor of ITV News, will help choose her successor there before relocating to New York.
In the meantime, although she’ll be an ocean away, Turness will be taking a crash course on NBC News. The troubles at NBC’s morning news program “Today” tend to overshadow what is still considered the strongest of the broadcast TV news operations. “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” is the most-watched evening newscast, and MSNBC and CNBC are both moneymakers for parent Comcast Corp.
Even “Today,” which has fallen behind ABC’s “Good Morning America” in the ratings,” remains a cash cow for NBC.
That does not mean there won’t be challenges for Turness. “Today,” which started to lose its way when Ann Curry was tapped to succeed Meredith Vieira, is struggling to recapture its mojo with new co-host Savannah Guthrie. Matt Lauer, once considered one of the most valuable assets within NBC News, has also seen his image suffer in the wake of Curry’s poorly handled departure. If Turness can maneuver “Today” back to the top of ratings she’ll be able to hang a mission accomplished sign across her desk.
While “Today” may be the highest priority for Turness, it is far from the only one. She will also be tasked with beefing up the online presence of NBC News. Like many traditional media outlets, , NBC has seen its ratings decline over the last several years as viewers flock to cable and the Internet for coverage.
For many years, MSNBC.com -- the Web operation for NBC News -- was run as a partnership between NBC and Microsoft Corp. Last year NBC bought out Microsoft’s interests and rebranded the website NBCNews.com. It will be Turness’ responsibility to take the site to the next level and exploit new platforms to increase reach and revenue.
“The one place you can actually grow audience is online,” said Andrew Tyndall, a TV news analyst and consultant. “If she can change NBC News to a global brand that it is mentioned in the same breath as CNN or BBC, that is a path toward growth versus managing shrinkage.”
The hiring of Turness was something of a surprise to TV news insiders. When NBC News Chairman Patricia Fili-Krushel started the search for a successor to Steve Capus, she made it clear that she wanted to look not only outside the company but also the country. Fili-Krushel, who had previously overseen human resources for NBCUniversal before being given her current job, was referred to Turness by an internal headhunter, a network insider said. The two first spoke via teleconference and then Turness was flown in for meetings with Fili-Krushel.
For Fili-Krushel, hiring Turness is her first big move since becoming chairwoman of the NBCUniversal News Group, which also includes CNBC and MSNBC.
Tyndall gave her praise for going beyond the usual suspects in finding a new head of NBC News.
“It shows a bit more imagination than I would expect from NBC News,” Tyndall said.
Since Turness is an outsider to NBC News, Fili-Krushel is hoping she can be an agent of change since she has no ties to any camp within the divisions. There are pros and cons to that, Tyndall noted.
“You don’t have any allegiances but if you want to make changes you don’t have allies either,” he said.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.