In Depth

The Selling of ‘Leno’: NBC’s Upfront Plan

Network to Pitch Primetime Jay in Different Light

NBC is encouraged by the reaction from advertisers and media buyers to its new 10 p.m. Jay Leno show, network ad sales President Michael Pilot said.

Mr. Pilot said NBC is positioning the new show as Jay Leno in primetime, rather than a late-night show at 10 p.m. The distinction is important, he said.

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“There’s a different audience, there’s a different CPM [cost per thousand viewers],” Mr. Pilot said. “Primetime is used differently as a marketing platform than late night is. It’s used largely by different advertisers. This will be Jay Leno in primetime. It will be sold that way. It will be planned that way. It will be packaged that way.”

Giving Mr. Leno a primetime Monday-Friday show was designed in part to keep the comedian from going to another network when he stepped down as host of “The Tonight Show,” a move that could have damaged NBC’s profitable late-night franchise.

“There’s clearly going to be an audience available for Jay at 10 that was not available for him at 11:30, and it is going to be a comedy show,” Mr. Pilot said. “As a comedy show, it will speak to where the zeitgeist is. It will be uplifting, it will be fun, it will be newsy, it will be contemporary, topical, and I think it could do really well.”

Mr. Leno’s show will cut costs for NBC because talk shows are less expensive to make than the scripted dramas that usually air at 10 p.m. on the broadcast networks. However, NBC is running the risk that ratings might not be the same as a top-flight drama would draw. Also, it remains to be seen how attractive a talk-show audience will be to primetime advertisers.

“I can see why they’re doing it. It makes good financial sense,” said one media buyer who declined to speak on the record. “But the question is how much are we going to pay for it.”

With no dramas at 10 p.m., NBC’s ad inventory tightens up; it also creates opportunities for ABC and CBS to draw more viewers. Cable also may become more competitive Monday through Friday.

Mr. Pilot said ad pricing will be a discussion that goes on throughout the upfront ad sales market in May.

“It is a unique, one-of-a-kind property,” he said, explaining the complexity of pricing ad time in the show.

The Leno show also will have the advantage of running original material for between 46 and 48 weeks of the year, compared with a drama that has 22 first-run hours.

“His program is going to be live-to-tape, same-day, and it’s going to be topical, it’s going to be guest-driven,” Mr. Pilot said. “I think there’s a real chance he could very well pull more rating points through that timeslot in 46 to 48 weeks of originals than we would have done with a successful scripted series that ran 22 weeks of originals.”

The Leno show also will be open to providing marketers with advertising opportunities that go beyond traditional 30-second spots.

“Jay is one of the most advertiser-friendly people we have, and he’s very interested in new opportunities for advertisers,” Mr. Pilot said.

There will be live commercials on the show, as well as other new ways for advertisers to connect with viewers, Mr. Pilot said.