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Ad Buyers on NBC: Wait ‘Til Next Year

Jun 4, 2007  •  Post A Comment

NBC’s new creative chief, Ben Silverman, inherits a fall lineup that television advertising buyers say won’t turn the network around overnight. The real test for Mr. Silverman, they say, will come next fall.
The fourth-rated network, which lost viewers each of the three years that NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly ran the shop, in 2006 posted flat upfront sales commitments. That lackluster performance followed an $800 million decline in commitments the year before.
“At the end of the day, NBC had to do something,” said Jason Maltby, president and co-executive director of national broadcast at MindShare North America. “They had to shake the tree somehow. I don’t think their vision was to still be in fourth place.”
Enter Mr. Silverman, who was brought on board so quickly he didn’t have time to watch all of the pilots Mr. Reilly had set for the fall 2007 schedule. The transition isn’t likely to affect the network financially this season, Mr. Maltby said.
“If it costs them anything, it’s with somebody who was wavering between being confident about whether or not they had a strong schedule,” Mr. Maltby said. “It might cause people to [ask], if NBC doesn’t have that much confidence in the schedule, why should I?”
Still, Mr. Silverman’s creative successes, which include “The Office” and “Ugly Betty,” has given some ad buyers confidence in the new NBC chief.
“Most of the reaction has been pretty positive for Ben Silverman,” Mr. Maltby said.
Mr. Maltby said the timing of Mr. Silverman’s installation as co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal Television Studio may have been awkward, but not unprecedented. He noted ABC installed Steve McPherson as head of programming a month before the 2004 upfronts. That year marked an upswing in the network’s fortunes, signaling that management upheaval doesn’t necessarily spell difficulty.
“The development is what it is and the schedule is what it is,” John Swift, managing director at PHD, said of NBC. “In reality, the first real test for this new regime is going to be next March,” when NBC shows ad buyers its program development for the 2008-09 season. He said Mr. Silverman’s entrance and Mr. Reilly’s departure won’t affect the current upfront.
While ratings success hasn’t come to NBC as quickly as one would hope, Mr. Swift said the network had begun to establish a reputation for putting better shows on the air.
“I felt really good as a buyer as to the commitment we saw from the previous regime in terms of a quality programming environment for messages,” Mr. Swift said. “The thing I think we’re all going to be looking for next March is, are we going down the same path or is it going to be something different?”
Shari Anne Brill, VP-programming services for Carat, said she thought most of the new shows in NBC’s upfront presentation would be competitive in their time slots.
“I think ‘Journeyman’ has potential on Monday at 10 p.m. against ‘The Bachelor,'” Ms. Brill said. “I think this will match up far better with ‘Heroes’ than what was there previously.”
She also liked “Bionic Woman,” but acknowledged that sentiment was not universal.
Mr. Reilly’s schedule didn’t seem to have any real disasters, she added.
“I can’t say there was anything that made me say, ‘What were they thinking?’ They don’t have a ‘Caveman,'” Ms. Brill said, referring to the ABC comedy that grew out of a series of commercials for Geico.
She said NBC also avoided efforts like “LAX,” “Joey” or “Father of the Pride,” some previous NBC failures.
“Kevin was doing a decent job,” Ms. Brill said of Mr. Reilly. When network programmers take the job, “you have to deal with the sins of your forefathers.”
When he took over in 2004, NBC was headed downhill with aging hits like “Friends” and “ER.”
“You don’t turn a network around in an hour,” Ms. Brill said.
Some shows that NBC canceled this season, such as “Kidnapped,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and “The Black Donnellys,” weren’t bad, just flawed or too nichey, she said.
“I think the shows this year may have somewhat wider appeal,” Ms. Brill said.

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