NBC Revamps Upfront to Expand Advertiser Input, Tout Year-Round Schedule

Feb 19, 2008  •  Post A Comment

NBC Universal executives say their upfront makeover is designed to give them more time to have conversations with advertisers.
During the three-month-long Writers Guild of America strike, NBC Universal President-CEO Jeff Zucker was outspoken about making changes to the upfront process, from the glitzy presentations to the way advertising is sold.
On Tuesday, the new plan was announced. The first step is unveiling a 52-week schedule in April. Traditionally networks announce their prime-time schedules for the fall at the May upfront presentations.
NBC Universal plans to make the schedule announcement a press event, then follow it up with three days of meetings in New York with individual agencies and their clients.
“Those would be what I would characterize as very intimate two-way conversations with our agency partners and their clients,” said Mike Pilot, president of ad sales for NBC Universal. “That would begin a month and a half’s worth of conversations that we will continue with agencies and clients about unique, innovative, customized things that we can do as we build up to the beginning of the upfront marketplace.”
NBC Universal still plans to have an upfront-week event on May 12. It probably won’t be held at Radio City Music Hall, but a big party is still on the agenda.
“We’ll still have all of our clients and agencies come in to celebrate our relationships,” Mr. Pilot said. “We’ll still probably have a few executives speak on a few things, but we’ll offer more of an NBC Universal in totality experience than an NBC prime-time experience.”
“A business-as-usual approach no longer applies in today’s multiplatform media environment,” said Mr. Zucker. “The traditional prime-time presentation shines a light on only one piece of what our company has to offer. This new approach gives our clients an early look at NBC’s scheduling strategy and allows us to showcase the full suite of creative advertising solutions and customized services that NBC is uniquely positioned to provide to the marketplace.”
NBC Universal said Telemundo would be holding development meetings in major Hispanic markets in March.
NBC Universal’s cable networks will have their normal upfront presentations.
Mr. Pilot said he’s been hearing a drumbeat from advertisers that they want to be let into the development and scheduling process earlier, so that they can do integrations and other collaborative marketing campaigns.
NBC also will be able to go to market earlier than other networks, if clients are ready to buy in May, or wait until September if some advertisers want to buy closer to the beginning of the calendar year.
“We will be in a position to be more flexible with how we do business, and we will be willing to do it,” Mr. Pilot said. “The upfront as we traditionally have referred to the beginning of the pilot season is still going to serve a very important purpose to a broad constituency of advertisers who want to lock up prime real estate, and so we will also be participating in that as we ordinarily would have done. But I think what [NBC Entertainment Co-Chairmen Marc Graboff and Ben Silverman] are providing us here is an extra month of time with clients to offer more flexibility in how and when we do deals.”
To some degree, the early schedule announcement will replace the development meetings that NBC and the other networks had in Los Angeles for media buyers.
“The whole concept is that we’re trying to take what has traditionally been a one-way conversation of the networks to the advertisers and turning it into a two way conversation,” said Mr. Graboff.
Instead of the usual approach—which Mr. Graboff described as, “Here’s our stuff, do with it as you want and please buy some 30-second spots”—NBC is trying to engage clients interactively to find out “can we tie in, for example, the launch of a show with a product launch, and do you want to tie in your product to the show.”
Most of the schedules announced in May have been changed by the time September rolls around. Last year, NBC announced a schedule on Monday and began making changes by the end of the week.
Mr. Graboff said the schedule NBC will announce in April will be as set in stone as any other network’s. The presentation will talk about the shows going into production and the mix of reality, comedy, drama, newsmagazines and sports NBC channels will air over the course of the year.
“We’re not doing any more bait-and-switches or less bait-and-switches than anybody else has ever done in any particular year,” he said. “To the extent that we are certain about our programming, of course we will say we are. And to the extent we are uncertain about what may fill any particular time slot, we’ll be clear about that as well.”
If it turns out NBC plans to launch a show in January, and advertisers have a need in February, “We’ll take that into consideration,” Mr. Graboff said. “That’s what this is all about.”
Mr. Graboff said putting a schedule together a month earlier than normal wasn’t a problem, even with the writers strike delaying the traditional pilot season.
“One of our initiatives here is to eliminate a lot of the waste of the traditional pilot season and go directly to series with a few of our shows,” he said. “So as far as we’re concerned, we know a lot about what we want to bring onto the air in the fall and spring and in January as well.”
He said that while Mr. Zucker has been doing most of the public talking about changing the upfront, he and Mr. Silverman wanted to announce the schedule early.
“We were kind of goading him into asking us to do that. We were ready. We were ready to go,” Mr. Graboff said.


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