Pre-Olympics Americana

Apr 6, 2008  •  Post A Comment

After a strike-shortened regular season rife with repeats, the broadcast networks are depending heavily on original programming to lure audiences this summer.
NBC, in particular, with a huge investment in the Beijing Summer Olympics that kick off Aug. 8, needs to hold onto its viewers going into that event. To that end it has initiated a promotional campaign dubbed “NBC’s All-American Summer.”
With NBC Entertainment Co-Chairman Ben Silverman providing a mantra of year-round programming at the outlet, the network is going all out with summer series leading up to the Games.
The Americana-themed promotional campaign, which starts this month, will tout the bevy of original programming that will dominate the NBC schedule leading up to the Summer Games. In fact, the network is scheduled to offer 287 hours of original programming in prime time this summer, compared to 164.5 in 2007, with 54 of those hours dedicated to the Games. In addition, the network has slated 106.5 original hours of reality and 20 hours of scripted series during that period.
“This just goes to show that we are truly committed to 52 weeks of original programming,” said Mitch Metcalf, executive VP of program planning and scheduling for NBC. “By spreading out our originals across all four quarters, it creates a real benefit for the advertisers, it keeps ratings up and, most importantly, it’s a real benefit to our viewers.”
Mr. Metcalf noted that changing times had prompted the greater focus internally on creating fresh programming for summer audiences. Among the shows in NBC’s lineup will be the return of “American Gladiators” May 12, “Last Comic Standing” May 22, scripted series “Fear Itself” May 29, “Nashville Star” June 9, “Celebrity Circus” June 11, “America’s Got Talent” June 17 and “The Baby Borrowers” June 25. All but “America’s Got Talent” will have finished their runs before the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games.
“A long patch of repeats in the summer is not acceptable in terms of doing business any more,” Mr. Metcalf said. “We need to stay relevant throughout the entire year and look for new shows that can work in every season. Summer shows tend to be fun and light, and success in the summer enables you to promote your fall lineup that much more effectively.”
To accomplish this, the network mandated its marketing department, the NBC Agency, to create the company’s biggest seasonal campaign in history to grab viewers for the run toward the Olympics. In the 1990s, NBC Universal spent a then-record $1.5 billion for rights to the 2006 and 2008 Olympics.
“We have an awful lot of money invested in the Olympics, and anytime you have a Summer Olympics, it’s an important summer,” said John Miller, chief marketing officer of NBC Universal Television Group and co-president of the NBC Agency. “We had to create a platform that would promote Olympics all summer long as well as our summer programming, so there was a sense of importance to this.”
Mr. Miller noted that while evaluating the possibilities for the campaign, he noticed a connection between the Olympics and NBC’s crop of shows. First the patriotic theme of the Olympics stood out for itself; in addition the network had prepared “American Gladiators” and “America’s Got Talent” for the summer. Suddenly the proverbial wheels were turning.
Playing a Theme
“We kept looking and saw that not only was there a spirit of Americana throughout the schedule,” Mr. Miller said. “Look at ‘Nashville Star’ and ‘Last Comic Standing,’ which plays to the average American looking to make it big. Suddenly we had ‘NBC’s All-American Summer,’ a platform that celebrated original programming and the Americans who want to show off their talents, whether it’s athletic, comic or unusual. That’s an exciting theme for us.”
To accomplish this, the network took its summer stars and placed them in iconic “American summer” locations, from parades to picnics, to create a tongue-in-cheek showcase that tied together talent and the country. From gladiators watching a parade to “America’s Got Talent” host Jerry Springer standing in wheat fields to “Nashville Star” host Billy Ray Cyrus aboard a battleship, the promos were designed to incorporate a dash of NBC humor into the spots.
“We are out to take every advantage of this opportunity, not only to get people watching our shows and the Olympics during the summer, but subsequently into the fall as well,” said Mr. Miller. “Needless to say, there’s a sense of importance over here.”

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