“Nightly Business Report” new owner speaks about upcoming changes
TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
In August, Mykalai Kontilai and his backers purchased the “Nightly Business Report” show that airs each weekend on public television stations across the country for an undisclosed price.
Since that time, the 31-year-old show has been undergoing some changes that began before the show was acquired. There were eight employees laid off from the show, as well as a reshuffling of the executives and some new segments.
Behind those changes is Kontilai, a 1991 graduate of Southern Illinois University and chairman of the board and co-founder of Public Media Inc. He has a number of initiatives in the works for the show that he hopes to launch later this year.
Kontilai’s background is in distributing instructional television programs. His business partner is Gary Ferrell, a former president and chief executive of North Texas Public Broadcasting.
Kontilai talked by phone on Friday afternoon with Talking Biz News about the show. What follows is an edited transcript.
What was your interest in acquiring “Nightly Business Report”?
My interest in NBR was in the fact that it was an established, institutional business, an iconic brand with an incredible foundation of credibility, and the ability to have its brand expanded into other platforms. And the Miami station felt that we had the resources and the experience to expand the brand, and to make the program more well-rounded. When we approached them, the program was not for sale. We approached them with some ideas, and they felt that was a good reason to consider our proposal.
What have been the big changes?
We’re currently working on a number of new areas of expansion for the program. Our Miami-based production of the program went from a static analog backdrop to a virtual studio.
Most of our work in expanding the program has been in platforms outside of the daily program, particularly working on the NBR.com website, which will be off of PBS.org. It will include a social network for business owners, where people can communicate with each other in the NBR social network. It will be digitizing our archives.
We are very strongly pushing the government initiative, which is still being considered by the Department of Defense. That will be a financial education initiative.
We are very aggressively looking at distributing the program internationally through a number of channels.
Those are our main directives for this year.
The show has launched some new segments. What’s been behind those?
We’ve launched a new segment on the program, called “Beyond the Scoreboard,” which is on the business of sports. That is on every Monday. We brought back our “Street Critique” segment with Hilary Kramer. We have launched new branded special that air on the nights that the New York Stock Exchange is dark. We did a “Beyond the Scoreboard” special on the Super Bowl. We have just about completed a new special called “Innovators in Business,” and the first segment of that will be looking at one of the pioneers in the REIT business, Milton Cooper.
We are focusing more on actual field reporting as opposed to doing a lot of economic analysis. And we’re really dedicated to launching some new segments coming in 2011, likely coming in the areas of entrepreneurship, small business and real estate. So expect to see some branded segments in those areas, as well as one called “Kids and Cash.”
We’re also very strongly pursing a national radio outlet as well, a possible 1-hour program with a national carrier. It’s not a done deal, but we’re in negotiations on that. The first half hour will be an audiocast of the program, and the second half will be a special, NBR-produced program. It would involved both of our hosts or some other radio talent.
What story or stories that the show has done in the past year have you been happiest about?
I’ve been very happy with the “Beyond the Scoreboard” segment. Sports affects most Americans, and most people in America enjoy sports as a leisure, and covering the business side of it has been very interesting. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on that. We’ve gotten positive feedback on “Street Critique,” bringing that back.
Most importantly, we’ve started to include the staff as a whole, creatively in looking for new ideas for content. Our managing editor, Wendie Feinberg, has done a good job in opening that door as far as suggestions and input.
The show recently added environmental coverage. How has that been received?
It’s been received very well. We want to continue that. By the end of 2011, we would have at least 10 unique branded segments to the show, at least covered on a biweekly basis, probably rotate every other week. That’s what makes NBR unique, you have these segments that play a unique role in people’s business lives, in managing their business or money. NBR has uniquely done a great job in putting business into the grass roots perspective of the average American.
You opened a bureau in Silicon Valley last November. Will there be others?
We have seven proposals out right now to various public television stations that are considering bureau partnerships. We’ve received some positive feedback. I would hope by the end of the year, we’d have three to five new bureaus opened, one in the Rocky Mountain region, one in the Southwest, one in Southern California, in addition to the one we have in Washington, D.C. and one we have in Chicago. It would put a reporter on the ground to cover breaking stories. We’ve got contracts out for people to review. So we’re pretty late in the process.
What will be the changes to the NBR.com website?
NBR.com is not constrained to the same PBS rules. We plan on making this truly a business news portal, along with a social networking portal, as well as a financial education portal. We’re in negotiating with some partners. The launch of the website should happen sometime in May, including the launch of the social network.
I wouldn’t call it a hurdle, but I would say acclimating myself and getting an understanding of the existing operation as it stands, and getting to know the daily operations, getting to know the people and the brand and the company as someone who came in from the outside. It’s been a great educational process, and extremely satisfying.
The morale, individual morale, has tremendously increased since we bought the company. I have received positive feedback on almost a daily basis. The entrepreneurial spirit has been great. At the end of the day, the people of NBR continue to be very dedicated and professional and highly experienced journalists. It’s been a real honor and pleasure to work with them.
How have the viewers responded?
Very positive. Most of the initiatives that we have launched so far has been received very well. Business news in the last year and a half has been challenging across the board. Most of the major business news networks have had some decreases in the ratings, and ours have been pretty stable. We have had a slight reduction, but overall our readers have been pleased with what we have been producing. We’re hoping that the launch of our major initiatives will give us a major boost and give them a much more comprehensive nightly business news program.
By doing the things that we say we’re going to do, we’re going to make NBR much more accessible,. By launching all of these initiatives and interactive networks, we’re allowing a place for our viewers to come after the show and continue learning and growing in their business knowledge. We expect that to attract more people and to build the brand.