NBC Modifies Upfront, But Still Holds It
Also unchanging: NBC will present first--on Monday--during upfront week, with the other networks following over the next three days. And there will be a post-presentation party.
Nonetheless, NBCU is making an effort to alter the scope of how it handles its upfront season, although the selling process will not change. What it calls a "client-centric" approach involves three tiers.
There had been speculation that networks might use the turmoil brought on by the writers' strike as a launching pad to save money and abandon the expensive presentations. But in the copycat television business, one network was unlikely to drop out unless its competitors all did.
Breaking from the usual announcement of programming for the September-to-May season, NBC will instead lay out its prime-time schedule for the full 52 weeks ahead in April. Then it will hold smaller client meetings in New York, with the heads of NBC's entertainment operations, Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff, meeting with advertisers to discuss marketing opportunities for that 52-week lineup.
Next, NBCU's sales team will fan out to New York, Los Angeles and Chicago for further meetings about the schedule and advertiser opportunities.
Then comes the May 12 "spotlight event." The location will be announced later.
NBCU said the "spotlight" will focus on more than just NBC proper to include the range of other assets that advertisers can buy throughout NBCU.
That, however, is not a complete surprise. NBCU chief Jeff Zucker has repeatedly sought to deemphasize the notion that NBC prime-time is the company's sine qua non. Last year, he said it accounts for less than 10% of earnings, suggesting that NBC's limping performance in recent years has been more of a PR problem rather than a financial trouble spot. Still, he said, those prime-time struggles are "not acceptable. It's a driver of our perception, and we've got to fix it," he said. (He did offer that when NBC finished first in 2004, it made $900 million; that dropped to $100 million with 2007's fourth-place performance.)
But recently, Zucker has said that the company's lineup of entertainment cable networks--USA, Bravo, Sci-Fi and now Oxygen--form the heart of the company, accounting for one-third of profits. In addition to the cable networks, NBC will tout its news properties, out-of-home properties and other opportunities at the "spotlight" event. One possible template for the event is an interactive glitzy booth NBCU had at the annual CES convention in January.
NBCU has touted its efforts to offer off-air, multi-platform marketing opportunities, particularly on the Internet, in recent upfront presentations.
Sports and Olympics, which NBC said would play a role this year, have also been part of previous Radio City displays. The last two years, the announcers from "Sunday Night Football" have staged a contest to determine who could throw a football the farthest, with each aiming for the upper deck.
Zucker said in a statement that the new upfront strategy "gives our clients an early look at NBC's scheduling strategy and allows us to showcase the full suite of creative advertising solutions and customized services that NBC Universal is uniquely positioned to provide to the marketplace."
NBC's emphasis on year-round programming is not entirely new; previous programming head Kevin Reilly had said NBC was emphasizing year-round development. While it appears the entertainment cable networks will be plugged in the "spotlight event," they will also hold their own more traditional upfront presentations.