The early message wasn’t promising for media buyers.
Kicking off an upfront in which price increases are expected to be high double-digits for the first time in years, Jimmy Fallon, dressed as a member of the cast of Hamilton, came out and sang about how “we’re selling commercials at crazy rates.” It could have been the beginning of a long day to start a long week.
In his “Welcome to Upfront Week” song, Fallon also noted that “at least we can say we’re the network that fired Donald Trump.” Trump as presidential candidate remains such an insane notion that the idea of an upfront combining broadcast, cable, Spanish-language and digital seems sensible by comparison.
Indeed NBCU made good on CEO Steve Burke’s promise that the show—which he labeled “the biggest upfront that ever existed”—would run no more than two hours.
Burke noted that NBCU had presented as many as eight upfronts a year until recently, which cost a lot of time and money. NBCU decided to show what “we really stand for as a company and have one, unified upfront.”
The upfront showed off the $40 million NBCU is spending on programming and that made the time worthwhile.
“It went fast for two hours,” said Shari Cohen, director of national advertising at Mindshare. “We all have to reinvent ourselves,” she said, and the presentation showed how the media company was optimizing its assets. “Only NBCU could put on a show like that.”
Linda Yaccarino, chairman of NBCU sales and client partnerships, told the audience they wouldn’t show the programs network by network. Instead they’d be grouped by fan bases. “We want you to see our entire portfolio through the eyes of our audience,” she said. “This is how we sell as one portfolio.”
Yaccarino also pointed out that Americans spend much more time with TV than with digital entertainment, such as YouTube or Facebook.
She tweaked the failure of Nielsen and others to adequately reflect how many people watch TV. “Who needs C3 when you have ATP, our audience targeting platform? And we’re guaranteeing it,” she said. “I don’t run a measurement company. I don’t run a research company, but I’m happy to do their jobs for them because we can’t wait any longer . . . we cannot wait and neither can all of you,” she told the marketers and buyers in the audience.
“This business isn’t about getting impressions. It’s about making impressions,” she said. “We bring together the art and the science, the innovation and the emotions. The mind and the heart," Yaccarino said.
There were lots of shows. And there were lots of stars. Jennifer Lopez, Kristen Bell, Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys, Kardashians, Rami Malek, Elizabeth Hurley, John Cena and even Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donald Trump’s replacement on The Apprentice.
Seth Meyers appeared near the end of the show, noting that his ratings would probably fall if he followed Yaccarino rather than Fallon. Meyers also said that watching sizzle release at the upfront was a lot like meeting your brother’s new girlfriend at Thanksgiving. She looks nice “but chances are she won’t be around next fall.”
Despite that, Bonnie Hammer, chairman of NBCU Cable insisted that NBCU had the best dramas, comedies, unscripted and live programming period. And while NBCU had extensive reach and incredible scale, it is also exceptionally nimble. “We’re able to adapt quickly and creatively to meet your needs in a crowded marketplace.”
With that, confetti canons went off and media buyers and advertisers departed, heading for Fox’s presentation in the afternoon.