Why Comcast's NBC News Has Decided to Keep Brian Williams

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- NBC News is expected to keep former NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams on its payroll, a calculated decision by the network's top executives to prevent Williams from going to a competitor despite his tarnished reputation, according to a person with knowledge of the decision.

Williams is expected to get what NBC insiders are calling the "Ann Curry treatment" -- being moved to another show, much as the network turned the former Today Show co-host into a roving reporter after her controversial departure in 2012. Williams is expected to move to a role at Comcast's (CMCSA) MSNBC cable news network, said the person with knowledge of the decision, although he could receive other assignments as well.

NBC likely decided to keep Williams, who in December signed a new five-year contract for a reported $10 million a year, for fear he would find a slot at another network. One possibility would have been for Williams to join cable new channel CNN, which is headed by former NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker.

Zucker revamped CNN's shows to boost ratings and has focused on adding documentaries and original programming that might be suited to Williams' quick wit, the person said.

In 2014, CNN, a Time Warner (TWX) unit, overtook second-place MSNBC among viewers aged 25 to 54, the group that advertisers most want to reach. In its most recent matchup, CNN was seen by more than twice as many viewers in that demographic, averaging 129,000 as compared to 62,000 for MSNBC. MSNBC trailed CNN among total viewers, as well.

Fox News, a unit of 21st Century Fox (FOXA), is the leading cable news network and was seen by an average of 235,000 viewers aged 25 to 54, according to ratings agency Nielsen.

NBC interim anchor Lester Holt will take the NBC Nightly News job permanently, according to CNN, which first reported NBC's decision. Holt is expected to be given a new long-term contract, replacing his current $4 million-a-year agreement, said one person.

The decision was made by NBC news chief Andrew Lack in consultation with Steve Burke, NBC Universal's chief executive officer. Ratings battles among news programs have been intense, and giving up Williams to a competitor could backfire, said the source. Nightly News generated $200 million in ad spending in 2013, according to Kantar Media.

Lack and Burke were said to weigh the possibility that viewers' memories would be short enough that Williams could regain their trust relatively soon. Williams might then benefit NBC in covering high-visibility events. Prior to acknowledging his exaggerations, Williams was considered among TV's most well-liked and trustworthy newscasters.

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