UPFRONT & CENTER: NBC Emphasizes Collaboration at 'InFront'

Plan Will Include 'Customization and Collaboration' with Advertisers on Television Projects
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NBC stressed its advertiser- and co-sponsor-friendly attributes at the first of two presentations for the upfront selling season that begins in earnest in mid-May.

Calling it his “dream schedule,” NBC Universal entertainment co-chief Ben Silverman revealed a 52-week schedule extending to the summer of 2009 that is designed to be light on reruns -- which advertisers have grown increasingly wary of -- and heavy on buzz-worthy premieres throughout the year.

He stressed the opportunities for “customization” and “collaboration” and “advertiser-friendly” programming including a renewed commitment to make 8 p.m. “family hour” on NBC.

Advertisers were receptive to NBC’s message of collaboration.

“There’s a lot of understanding about what clients’ needs are,” said Bill Cella, former chairman and CEO of Magna Global Worldwide, adding that an 8 p.m. family hour will appeal to many clients that want to reach a broad audience without having to worry about content issues.

A five-quarter schedule like the one NBC unveiled in what it dubbed an “infront” is highly useful for advertisers launching big national promotional campaigns.

“When [advertisers] are putting promotional schedules and promotional campaigns together, they’re not working in a vacuum," Cella added. "I think it was smart on their part to extend to extend their reach out to accommodate brands’ promotional schedule. That’s never been done before.”

Silverman acknowledged that some schedule changes are inevitable.

“We obviously always have to react to the three-dimensional chess game we’re playing,” he said. “Major competition comes across cable, across broadcast, across real-life events, so we’re going to constantly need to be able to call the audible and make the moves we need to make to ensure that we’re remaining as competitive as possible. But this is the schedule we believe in and this is the schedule we’re sharing with our advertising clients that are going to commit dollars against it. But clearly, if something happens that requires us to make an adjustment, we’ll make that adjustment.”

NBC’s partnership with DirecTV for a third season of Friday Night Lights that gives the satellite-television provider first run of the show beginning Oct. 1 is the kind of innovative deal the network hopes to do more of. The show will premiere on NBC during midseason, when it will also premiere on Hulu and NBC.com. Silverman stressed that the DirecTV deal was integral in the show’s renewal and does not pose a cannibalization threat with an insignificant audience overlap.

“We brought this show back because we love it,” he said. “Wherever you want to watch it, you can watch it.”

Finding a way to bring Friday Night Lights back for a third season also will help NBC to amortize its investment via DVD and foreign sales, as well as off-network syndication potential, he added.

“With this deal,” Silverman said, “it lets us continue with this show at what were marginal ratings.”

And while all of the broadcast networks have taken a turn toward more reality programming of late -- a byproduct of the writers’ strike and a contracting economic climate -- Silverman’s presentation attempted to recast the network's various reality offerings. including The Biggest Loser, American Gladiators and Deal or No Deal, as “escapist,” “heroic” entertainment. When one journalist asked if this wasn’t just an attempt to dress up “cheap reality,” Silverman quipped: “We spend a shitload on that cheap reality.”

He also took a swipe at Fox, saying: “We will not be doing Moment of Truth on NBC.”

Silverman was mum on details for The Office spinoff that will premiere after NBC’s telecast of the Super Bowl. Office executive producer Greg Daniels will be at the helm of anywhere from 6-13 episodes, according to Silverman.

For complete coverage of the upfronts, click here.

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