The two upfront presentations staged virtually on Monday could not have been more different.
The one put on by NBCUniversal said, Look at us! And in the process, rarely addressed the customer base -- presumed to be the advertising community watching in their offices or homes, the very people for whom such presentations are supposed to be designed.
The other one staged by Fox said, We exist for you -- in the process addressing the advertising community directly and repeatedly with messages that asked, What can we do for you? -- otherwise known as asking for the order, a tactic once considered the very essence of salesmanship (or so I once learned long ago).
NBCU staged its 2021 upfront at noon Eastern time on Monday and as usual, was the first of the majors to mount its presentations in what has become known as Upfront Week.
Running for approximately one hour and six minutes, NBCU’s presentation consisted of the usual content announcements (translation: new shows) accompanied by clips, trailers and a smattering of appearances by various series stars.
NBCU is a sprawling company with a legacy network (NBC), six basic cable channels (Oxygen, E!, Syfy, USA, Bravo and Universal Kids), sports and news divisions, a streaming service (Peacock) and myriad other platforms and networks.
Among the projects the company chose to ballyhoo at the upfront (out of approximately 80 projects in development, claimed Susan Rovner, chairman of entertainment content for NBCUniversal Television and Streaming) were the upcoming final seasons of “This Is Us” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” on NBC, a “Chucky” series on Syfy, a medical drama starring Alec Baldwin on Peacock, a revival of the old NBC sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” as a drama called “Bel-Air” (also for Peacock), a Kevin Hart talk show called “Hart to Heart” (for Peacock) and a host of other shows that no one will remember today, the day after the upfront.
Through it all, a parade of NBCU personalities each came on to talk about themselves -- including the charmless Will Smith for the “Fresh Prince” remake, Kevin Hart on his talk show (which looked by the clips like it should be declared “dud on arrival”), and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who made a very brief statement about “Young Rock,” the semi-autobiographical sitcom about his teenage years, that seemed to sum up NBCU’s obsession with itself.
“To understand me,” said The Rock, “you have to understand where I came from.” Upon hearing this, I asked myself: Why do I “have to” understand anything about The Rock? Why do I have to care where he came from?
It was not until the end of the NBCU presentation that Linda Yaccarino, chairman of global advertising and partnerships for NBCU, finally made an appearance and made a speech that was vague and general, and seemed to try and encompass the entirety of NBCUniversal, which is no mean feat.
“Just a couple of months ago at One21 [a virtual presentation staged by NBCUniversal in March], we gave you an entirely new view into our company’s vision, the technology we’re building, the metrics and the mechanics that set us apart from every other media company and the magic that makes us a new kind of tech company,” she said. …
“This is us. This is what we can do. We create communities and fandoms, holidays and memes. We power platforms. We break the internet. What we make reaches everyone, legends turning chairs on’The Voice’ … the ring bell on WWE, the closing bell on CNBC and ‘Saved By the Bell’ on Peacock [etc. … yawn.].”
Fox’s presentation, on the other hand, was all about the ad community and the power of broadcasting. Fox executives Charlie Collier, CEO of Fox Entertainment (pictured above), and Marianne Gambelli, president of advertising sales for Fox Corp., repeatedly hammered home the event’s most important takeaway -- that Fox Corp. content is fully ad-supported and, in fact, made for the purpose of selling advertising.
This is only part of what Collier said throughout the presentation, but see how many times he said “you,” referring to his company’s customers, in just this portion alone:
“To our partners and our advertisers, this upfront is for you,” Collier said, setting the tone at the outset of the one-hour virtual presentation.
“I never thought I would have to point this out at the upfront, but at Fox, advertising isn’t just part of the story, it is the story,” he said. “From ad innovations to creative partnerships, Fox is the only network-centered entertainment company that is 100% ad-supported. Whether on broadcast or streaming, we’re committed to producing content for you, content that is never locked behind a paywall -- not just today at the upfront but every day. …”
“Our upfront is for advertisers. You’re the reason we’re here,” he said, “why the upfronts remain important. We appreciate the opportunity to share where Fox is heading, and give you a preview of our series for next season. They’re not built for subscribers. They’re built for you to help build your brands.”