NBC (NYSE: GE) Universal’s local division is hoping to attract prominent Twitter users in a variety of cities as it works on connecting its TV stations to its online offerings. The program, dubbed The 20, will choose 20 of the most influential people in each of the ten markets where NBCU has a local TV station. The hope is that by offering established local Twitter users with a wider platform, they’ll bring new audiences to NBCU’s affiliates.
The 20 will launch in January in Washington, DC, New York, and San Diego and roll out across the remaining seven additional NBCU markets over the year.
The chosen 20 will be expected to use their influence to draw users to NBCU’s coverage of local issues, including politics, sports, and culture, such as dining, fashion. Education and criminal justice will also be part of the mix.
The experiment sounds good on paper, but it’s worth wondering whether merely having a large following of one’s 140-character musings can translate to TV. The 20 will be featured on broadcast, in on-air segments and packages, and across NBC’s other local media properties, including its digital Nonstop television channels, city-specific websites and other properties like The Feast. Realizing that Twitter popularity can be a fickle thing, membership in The 20 will change periodically as new local voices emerge and old ones fade away.
In any case, the new program suggests that NBCU is putting more focus on local as its pending merger with Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) inches toward final regulatory approval. Although broadcast has been considered NBCU’s weakest link, Comcast has placed a major bet on the company’s extensive content offerings. Plus, with local ad revenues still largely untapped, it represents a chance to change local broadcast’s fortunes around, if it can build a viable online and offline business that can complement, not compete, stations’ ability to attract local ad dollars.