NBC’S Pilots Taxi to Cable

Sep 4, 2006  •  Post A Comment

After a summer of launching their own hot shows, NBC Universal’s cable networks are being asked to help get NBC’s fall broadcast slate off the ground.

Top-rated USA Network, home of Emmy winner “Monk” and the new “Psych,”early next month will televise NBC’s new drama pilots for a week at 11 p.m. (ET). Sci Fi Channel, which successfully launched its own “Eureka,” will give a boost to NBC’s comic-book inspired “Heroes” later this month. And Bravo, boosted by “Project Runway” and the new “Workout,” will run the inside-TV series “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and “30 Rock.”

Since the merger of NBC and Universal, the cable networks have become growing profit centers for NBCU. They’ve also become promotional platforms that the company needs more than ever, now that the once-dominant NBC has slid into fourth place among broadcast networks.

“We really have the ability to reach many, many more people,” said Jeff Gaspin, president of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment & Cross-Platform Strategy.

The cable channels can help NBC by running promotional clips, but running whole episodes can be even more convincing for potential viewers, said John Miller, NBC’s chief marketing officer. The company also is spending more than it did last year on traditional media such as radio, print and cable networks to promote the broadcast slate, he said.

“Our focus is to let people see these shows, enjoy them and judge for themselves,” Mr. Miller said. “We think if they see them, they’ll come back for more.”

NBC has had a good summer with a strong showing from “America’s Got Talent,” but the broadcast and cable networks need to do more promotion than they have in the past because they don’t reach as many viewers as they have in the past, Mr. Miller said.

Many of the new NBC shows have received positive notices from critics and ad buyers. The network is “looking pretty good” in polls tracking awareness of shows and viewers’ intent to watch, Mr. Miller said.

Like other networks, NBC has taken steps to expose pilots of their fresh shows in new venues. For instance, NBC will preview “Friday Night Lights” and “30 Rock” on its new Web site, NBCFirstlook.com.

The network also has deals to stream pilots with Yahoo and MSN. It will run a free download promotion with Apple Computer’s iTunes, and DVD rental service Netflix is providing subscribers with NBC shows on discs.

The Internet promotions, which are done mostly on a barter basis, have grown in value, Mr. Miller said. “If you monetize those deals, they would be significantly more than we spent last year, because the value of getting the front page of Yahoo-where they sell that for several hundred thousand dollars-we’re getting that as a bonus, because we’re giving them some content,” he said.

The same is true for deals with AOL, MSN and YouTube.com, which are carrying long-form clips promoting NBC shows.

Cable is a valuable medium as well, and NBCU’s cable networks have been hot.

“We’ve had a fantastic summer on all our cable properties-increases in ratings and revenue,” Mr. Gaspin said. “That makes these [cable assets] even more valuable to help promote the network for the fall season.”

NBC is using each network to target a different demographic. Dramas are a good fit with the normal programming on USA, which reaches a large audience in the 25 to 54 age group. Its week of NBC pilots starts Oct. 2, with a show each night in the 11 p.m. time slot.

Sci Fi, which skews toward male audiences, will air “Heroes” on Friday nights beginning Sept. 29 at 7 p.m.

Bravo, which reaches more young women, will show Tina Fey’s “30 Rock” on Oct. 12 and Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m. Bravo will also air “Studio 60” once, but the air date has not yet been finalized.

During the summer, launching cable shows tends to be the top priority, Mr. Miller said: “Now it’s their turn to help support the NBC fall launch priorities.”