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NBC looks to UK for president

Deborah Turness will take over as NBC News president in August.

The NBC logo as seen from its head office in New York. Picture: AFP

NEW YORK - Deborah Turness, a former top television news editor in Britain, will take over as NBC News president in August, at a time when it is looking to turn around the fortunes of its news division.

Turness will replace Steve Capus, who left the network in February. She will report to Patricia Fili-Krushel, chairman of NBCUniversal News Group, who oversees the news unit's business operations.

NBC's broadcast news unit stumbled lately, because its morning show and profit centre, "Today," was sagging in the ratings.

There were also industry wide questions about the relevance of a nightly newscast, long NBC strength.

In May, NBC cancelled news anchor Brian Williams' Television news magazine, "Rock Center," after lacklustre ratings.

Steve Ridge, a Magid Associates consultant who works with network affiliates of NBC said, "There's a perception that NBC News is slipping. There's been a fair amount of discontent among the affiliates and they're ready to embrace her and meaningful change."

The broadcast network's national news program "NBC Nightly News" is averaging 8.2 million viewers, ahead of "ABC World News" and "CBS Evening News."

But ratings for all nightly news broadcasts had been declining for years.

"Today" has been losing viewers to ABC's "Good Morning America," which snapped NBC's 16-year unbeaten ratings streak last year.

Its long-time co-anchor Matt Lauer has been the subject of a series of articles speculating on his future on "Today."

Turness, 46, has a solid track record in Britain, where she worked as the editor of ITV News since 2004. She was thought to hold her own in a highly competitive environment, up against the much bigger news budgets of the BBC and Rupert Murdoch's Sky News.

ITV is Britain's biggest commercial free-to-air broadcaster, although it tends to lose out to the BBC in terms of viewer ratings on the big events.

But Turness helped land some coups for ITV, including an interview with Prince William and Kate Middleton following their engagement.

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