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In Front of the Upfronts

Apr 6, 2008  •  Post A Comment

NBC’s early presentation of its prime-time schedule to media buyers last week won some of them over, and may foreshadow other changes in the annual upfront advertising marketplace.
Last week’s series of small presentations to buyers and clients was designed to show off NBC’s programming and to give advertisers an early look at more integrated advertising packages built around the network’s shows.
The other broadcast networks will present their schedules during the traditional upfront week in May, when NBC will hold an event to play up its ability to sell advertising across multiple media.
“I think it’s a real step in the right direction in terms of changing things up in the upfront marketplace,” said Chris Geraci, managing director of national broadcast investment at OMD.
“Knowing what we know now about their schedule is something that will benefit both NBC and its customers.”
The positive reviews constitute something of a win for NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker, whose broadcast network languishes in fourth place in the ratings. Mr. Zucker brought aboard Ben Silverman as co-chairman of entertainment and installed GE veteran Mike Pilot to lead sales as part of his effort to ramp up revenue at the broadcast network, where sales were flat in the last upfront season.
One of the hallmarks of last week’s presentation was the invitation extended to advertisers to get involved with NBC’s programming early to integrate sales messages.
“I was struck by their approachability and desire for collaboration,” said Peter Gardiner, chief media officer at Deutsch. “It has not been about buying commercial units for a long time, and I think they’re the first and most dramatic example of being much more user-friendly.”
Mr. Gardiner said he liked that NBC has a strategy for reducing reruns and that its programming is being tied into big TV events such as the Olympics and the Super Bowl.
“There’s a thread that ties everything together; it’s not just a bunch of programs,” he said. “Obviously the programs at the end of the day are the things that matter.”
NBC has changed its programming development process, largely eliminating the pilots that buyers use to evaluate upcoming shows.
Mr. Gardiner said that even with pilots, picking hits was never a sure thing.
“At the end of the day, it’s impossible for anybody to predict the success of an individual show,” he said. “But when you have a collaborative process and you get advertisers behind shows and platforms, I think everybody’s in it together. I think that’s what it’s going to take, whether it’s a broadcast network or a cable network.”
Mr. Gardiner said some of the new shows NBC has on its schedule looked attractive.
“We’re certainly interested and have already had a number of conversations with them,” he said.
Mr. Gardiner said all of the networks have become more marketing-friendly. Buyers will be heading to Los Angeles later this month for development meetings, where marketing discussions will take place.
“NBC has done it in a more open and dramatic fashion,” Mr. Gardiner said. “They took the first swing, so they’re going to get a little more credit right now, but the other guys have become much more marketing-oriented, too.”
NBC’s Mr. Pilot called the meetings positive and thought they positioned the network well as the upfront approaches.
“I think we activated an awful lot of interest—of that I am very sure,” Mr. Pilot said. “When we transact and how we transact, we’re indifferent to that. We just think that putting quality information out there earlier is likely to find better connections and will maybe cause action to occur.”

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