MBPT Spotlight: A Dog-Gone Good Idea—NBC fetches a surprise ratings winner with (best in) show

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jlafayette@nbmedia.com | @jlafayette

With ratings as big as a great dane, NBC’s annual broadcast of
the National Dog Show has proved to be as much a hit on Thanksgiving Day as turkey, cranberries and pumpkin pie.

Why This Matters
Who would've thought a dog show would be such a cash cow? NBC did, and it now owns an ad-friendly day of family viewing.

The show, which follows the Macy’s
Thanksgiving Day Parade, drew a 4.9
household rating in its noon to 2 p.m. ET
time slot last year, attracting 19.3 million
total viewers. That’s up from 2011, when it
had a 3.3 rating and 18.1 million viewers.

Last year, NBC began replaying the
telecast, hosted by John O’Hurley, in
primetime, where it drew a 3 household rating at 10
p.m. Friday—not too late to reach Black Friday weekend
shoppers.

In addition to key sponsor Purina, retailers are a big
part of the advertising mix during the dog show. Those
retailers can’t advertise during the parade because of
Macy’s exclusive relationship with the annual celebration
in Manhattan’s Herald Square.

At a time when ratings for most broadcast programming
are declining, viewership of the National Dog
Show has remained consistent over the years. But
while NBC pretty much knows what to expect these
days, the performance was a big surprise in 2002,
when the telecast was just a pup.


No Mere Dog and Puppy Show

The idea for the National Dog Show was unleashed
by Jon Miller, president of programming for
NBC Sports and the NBC Sports Network. In January
2002, Miller’s wife brought home a DVD of the
film Best in Show, and they watched with friends.
“We thought it was hysterical,” Miller recalled of the
howlingly funny Christopher Guest mockumentary
sendup, and thoughts of putting a dog show on TV
started yelping in Miller’s head.

The next day at work, he asked an intern
to research the second-oldest U.S. dog
event after the famous Westminster Kennel
Club Dog Show, which is televised by
NBC’s cable cousin USA Network. The intern
came back with the news that, in fact,
Westminster was the second oldest show
and that the Kennel Club of Philadelphia’s
competition was the grand-doggy of them all. Miller
called the head of the Philadelphia Kennel Club out
of the blue to talk about putting the show on TV. “He
was speechless to say the least,” Miller said.

Miller’s bosses at NBC also scratched their heads.
Dick Ebersol, then chairman of NBC Sports, “almost
threw me out of his office,” Miller said. “He looked at
me like I had five heads and said, ‘What do you mean
you want to put a dog show on NBC? That’s crazy.
You’ll get killed.’”

Miller was able to explain that he intended to run
the dogs after the Thanksgiving Day parade. Ebersol
made a phone call to NBC’s Entertainment division,
which was getting a 1 rating with reruns of It’s a Wonderful
Life
in that time slot.

Once NBC brass embraced the idea, Miller made
a deal with the Kennel Club, which agreed to let
NBC call the event the National Dog Show. He also
reached out to Purina, which had been blocked from
participating in the Westminster show because of the
event’s relationship with Pedigree brand pet food.

Miller watched the inaugural 2002 show from his
wife’s family’s home in Canton, Ohio. The next morning,
he got a call from Ebersol, who told Miller to expect
to get a phone call from NBC’s then-CEO, Jeff
Zucker.

“I thought, this is not a good thing if the president
of the company is calling me,” Miller said. “Obviously,
you screwed up.”

Zucker rang. “Do you have any idea what the dog
show did yesterday?” Miller recalled Zucker asking.
“I said, ‘Research told us it might do a 1½. I’m hoping
it did at least that,’” Miller said. “He told me it did a 7
rating. He said it was tremendous.”

Ever since, the National Dog Show has grown into a
good business for NBC. Advertising revenue during the
broadcast has nearly doubled to $8.4 million in 2012
from $4.4 million in 2008, according to Kantar Media.

NBC has also started to put parts of the show it
can’t televise online, so that dog lovers can see the
judging of each of the 187 breeds entered in the show.

It’s also good for Purina. “To be involved in a highprofile
show on Thanksgiving Day, when people are
watching in their homes with their family, and usually
with their pet, is a huge opportunity for anyone in the
pet industry,” said Jill Meyer, senior brand manager
at Purina. “We look at it as a very big deal. It’s something
we get behind and get excited about each year.”

Purina has all the event’s touch points covered,
with commercials and vignettes on TV reinforcing the
theme “Pets and People Are Better Together.”

Meyer declined to say how much Purina spends to
sponsor the National Dog Show, “but as far as what
we feel we get out of it, we feel it’s a great partnership
and it’s worth it to us.”

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