NBCU CEO Calls Upfront 'Strongest' In Its History

NBCUniversal has quickly completed a strong upfront selling process -- the fastest in years -- just two weeks after Memorial Day.

“It was the strongest upfront probably in the history of NBCUniversal,” said Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, speaking Monday morning at a Credit Suisse investor conference.

“We are pretty much done. Demand was extremely strong, which led to pricing that was extraordinary,” he said, noting that strong pricing in the second quarter was a predictor of how the upfront would perform.

Strong U.S. advertising estimates pointed to big volume gains for many U.S. TV networks, as well as soaring pricing of around 20% on the cost-per-thousand viewer pricing (CPMs).

On Friday, The CW also closed its upfront deal-making with 19% to 21% gains in CPMs.

“Our approach allowed us to go early in the market and take advantage of the strength of the market,” he said.



Shell says supply-and-demand issues were key. In the pandemic, “three or four points of viewership” shifted to a non-advertising platform (Netflix, Disney+) from ad-supported platforms (broadcast/cable TV networks).

“Advertisers are trying to find reach wherever they can find it. Reach is increasingly difficult to find. If you have reach, you have a commodity that is very valuable.” And if that isn’t possible, Shell says advertisers want granularity that comes with addressable advertising and other efforts. “It’s kind of a barbell.”

New streaming ad platforms are now much more important. “We launched Peacock a year ago. We choose the right business model.” He says NBC has both reach and granularity.

Although he did not disclose financial or other marketplace specifics, he says NBCU sold about the same percentage of its inventory in the upfront.

Typically, broadcast TV networks sell around 70% to 75% of their advertising inventory during the upfront selling period.

In the 2019 upfront selling period -- for the 2019-2020 TV season, the most comparable upfront period -- NBC tallied a $7 billion advertising upfront for all its platforms: linear, digital, broadcast and cable networks.

Last summer/fall, total broadcast/cable TV networks witnessed lower upfront business -- for the current season -- due to pandemic disruptions. They were down 3.5% to $18.5 billion, according to eMarketer.

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