They had to introduce dozens of new shows across 16 broadcast and cable networks, plus a number of new advertising sales initiatives. They had to do it in less than two hours. And it had to be entertaining.
“Much as we are showing our capabilities as a company, we also are an entertainment company and we want it to be a show,” said Scott Wiesenthal, senior VP, executive creative director, at NBCU’s Content Innovation Agency.
The upfront hammered home the message that “NBCUniversal is Unequaled.” That theme had to be ready to go when upfront ad sales discussions began—at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.
Watch Trailers for NBC's 2017-2018 Lineup
“Historically we’ve developed both an ad campaign and an upfront show around this time of year,” said John Shea, executive creative director, NBCUniversal. “This year we’re doing the same thing at Radio City, but the campaign that we’re launching this year . . . is part of a much larger campaign that will be a year-long, 365 days 24 hours a day, 7 days a week message.”
While the upfront remains important “the business that we do year-round also requires one overall strategic bent and that’s what we’ve done this year with the ‘Unequaled’ campaign,” Shea said.
The campaign is designed to deliver the message that NBCU is unequalled as an advertising and media partner for markets.
This is the second year that NBCUniversal has mounted a single upfront presentation designed to incorporate its entire portfolio of broadcast, cable and digital properties, plus its partnerships with companies including Snapchat, Vox, Buzzfeed and Apple News.
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Last year, NBCU tried to group its content by category, like exciting shows, or funny ones, regardless of network.
This year, it tried to put more of a focus on the individual networks.
“The good news is this year I believe that we can have our cake and eat it too,” said Shea. “We’re going to be talking about great stories virtually for every one of the networks, network by network. But at the same time we have some larger claims that we can makes across the portfolio and for each network.”
This year’s presentation will also focus on creating live moments for the audience in Radio City.
“We had a ton of talent that was out on stage, we had that big Rio Carnivale sports spectacular [to promote the Rio Olympics] about half way through the show, said Steven Rummer, VP, brand strategy at the Content Innovation Agency. “All of that was really successful and being on a Monday morning at Radio city, which is this iconic venue, we really want to lean into the fact that we are in a theater and therefore are going to bring a lot of surprises that are theatrical surprises throughout the course of the entire show.”
There was also a big effort to maximize the value of the star power a huge company like NBCU can muster.
The show opened with a powerful song from Jennifer Hudson.
After an introduction by ad sales head Linda Yaccarino, the return of Will & Grace was celebrated in music and dance by the show’s stars.
The presentation used talent from each of the networks to introduce the new shows on their networks.
America Ferrara talked about the comedies on NBC, Rafael Amaya and Kate del Castillo introduced upcoming series on Telemundo.
Universal Kids, NBCU’s new network for children, was introduced by Vanessa Lachey and Curtis Stone of Top Chef Junior.
Other presenters brought up on stage included the Kardashian sisters, Jennifer Lopez, Zachary Levi, Jason Blum, Jessica Biel, Bill Pullman, John Cena, Nikki Bella, Jim Cramer, Lester Holt, Matt Lauer, Savanah Guthrie, Chuck Todd, and NBC News’ latest addition Megyn Kelly.
The biggest, most anticipated moment came when the cast of This is Us took the stage. “You might even find out how Jack died next year,” Milo Ventimiglia told the audience.
With Jimmy Kimmel on the upfront sidelines this year because of his son’s health issues, Seth Meyers offered upfront humor.
Meyers noted that the upfronts have been post-truth since the beginning. “This week is the definition of fake news,” he said, adding that TV executives “talk about new shows the way Trump talks about health care.”
He said it was ironic that NBCU would talk about the future of media in a place called Radio City, which sounds like a place one would go to get an HDMI cable, only to find they don’t have them.
“Has anyone mentioned This is Us,” he asked. NBC talks about This is Us the way a “girl shows off the diamond on her engagement ring.” After 13 years without a No. 1 hit, it should be “This is Unlike Us,” he added.
Meyers joked that with everything else on the NBC schedule, he was surprised that the return of Will & Grace wasn’t being called Chicago Gay.
Meyers is the executive producer of one of NBC’s new comedy’s AP Bio. He said he used to think the selection of shows was completely random. Now, “I realize this is an unimpeachably fair process made by smart people with impeccable taste.”
NBCU’s upfront wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the upcoming Super Bowl, Olympics and World Cup its networks would be broadcasting, and Sports and Broadcast head Mark Lazarus came out with Lindsey Vonn, Carlos Hermosillo and Joe Montana.
The Minions closed the show and guests got tickets to Despicable Me 3.
Interspersed were billboards pitching NBCU ad products ranging from data to the content studio that were brief enough not to slow the show down.
“Even though these messages don’t take up a lot of the show , they are hugely important,” said Rummer, adding not only that they’re entertaining and keep the show moving, "but at the same time, you have to take something away from them, so we think we’ve hit a really great way to do it.”
So how’d they do? First of all, it concluded just a few minutes after 12:30.
And one key media buyer, Chris Geraci, president of national video investment at OMD, said he found the presentation entertaining. “I thought it was very well produced,” he said.
“They did a good job covering all the assets,” he said, adding he was surprised they didn’t spend any time going over NBC’s primetime schedule.
Maybe next year.