For advertisers, is there really a reason to attend an upfront presentation like the one NBC put on Monday? Well, no and yes.
It’s hard to make a case from a business standpoint. Are marketers really going to make any decisions based on ratings spin -- considering their research departments are on top of things? Do they need to see clips about new shows since full pilots will come to the office soon enough? Do they get fired up with impassioned language about how focused a network is on customer service and providing them with new breakthrough opportunities?
Guess: negative. It’s sort of funny watching networks offer the stuff up.
Using NBC as an example, though, an upfront is a relaxing way to spend a couple of hours. Moreover, the chance to soak in nostalgia makes it worth it.
NBC, of course, would want attendees to walk away with different reactions, but thanks nonetheless. Really.
NBC’s presentation at Radio City didn’t offer anything mold-breaking. It could have been given in 1983, 1993 or 2013. There was a logo on the set that looked like it was from the Golden Age of Radio.
It may have been lighter on entertainment than yesteryear. No comedian or musical act performed live during the show, for example. And, the stars of new series mercifully did not take the stage one after another to say “thanks for your support.” NBC just showed them briefly on screen sitting in their seats.
(There was a funny video playing off a previous one with Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon lip-synching to a “Les Mis” tune. Fallon: “Jay’s really going to leave this time.” Leno: “Who knows (NBC) might beat Univision?”)
But, top NBC Entertainment executives Robert Greenblatt and Jennifer Salke simply presented the new schedule grids and teed up clips of what’s coming. Greenblatt found a way to suggest CBS’s season performance has been less impressive than at first glance. And, NBCUniversal ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino thanked the affiliates.
Yes, those stations around the country that networks used to revere so much, they paid them to air their programming. Now, they collect notable fees from them. Executives in the station business might say the respect has frayed and it’s a you-work-for-us ethic now.
There were no plugs for easily forgotten webisodes and thankfully not much talk about social media. With it's conventional approach, NBC instead offered a chance to recognize the remarkable history of television. It brought an opportunity to appreciate just how much advertising on the small screen has propelled the economy and built brands for decades.
So, network TV is changing. There’s talk of a revolution. But it still makes a bunch of money. As one person on a Guardian podcast suggested recently, the challenge will be to avoid what happened to the newspaper industry. Maybe only a decade ago, it was thriving. Changes – such as paywalls – weren’t implanted soon enough.
But it’s getting a bit old to suggest network executives have deluded themselves into believing the good times will last forever and there is no need to innovate. For some time, they’ve been intent on building a dual-revenue stream – thanks affiliates! – that will drive growth. And, they've found a way to make Netflix not just a frenemy, but a good buddy with money.
Ok, so what about advertising?
“A challenging time? You betcha. A complicated time? It really is,” acknowledged Yaccarino. But, she said there are “unprecedented opportunities to use media more powerfully and creatively than ever before.”
Key there is cross-platform measurement. And she noted NBCU research chief Alan Wurtzel is working towards nudging the industry in the direction of an omni-channel currency.
There has been a lot of talk about how cable networks such as AMC and FX have been bloodying some Big Four noses. NBCU, of course, has a lot of lucrative cable outlets.
But Yaccarino said NBCU is working to build an integrated sales team “with NBC at its center.”
NBC could sure use some big hits beyond the NFL and “The Voice.” But networks have had ebbs and flows for decades -- yes, NBC has had a long ebb.
But upfront presentations always carry a theme of greatness is only months away. Hopefully, that will be a rite for spring for a long time to come. The boundless optimism makes for a nice few hours and fun for those looking back and ahead.
To all those declaring pricey upfront presentations are antiquated, just chill. With apologies to Jimmy Kimmel, it's not your money.