NBC U's synergy drive skirts guild rules

It’s less than a month old, but the newly minted NBC Universal marketing machine is already kicking into overdrive — though that speed may have already resulted in a misstep.

For even a casual viewer of the Peacock web, it’s been hard to miss the evidence over the past few days of the new corporate mandate for cross-pollination of projects. While so-called “synergy” is nothing new in the conglom-dominated media world, NBC U’s efforts are notable both for their breadth and the speed with which the new company has mobilized.

But NBC U may have moved too fast with at least one effort: A promotion for Universal Studios Home Video’s DVD release of “Along Came Polly” seems to have violated WGA and DGA rules against running ad pitches during closing credits.

During last week’s episodes of “Friends” and “Will & Grace,” Peacock turned over its promo “window” — i.e., the video seen on the left- side of the screen while closing credits roll — to hyping “Polly.” Mini interviews with “Polly”/NBC stars Jennifer Aniston and Debra Messing concluded with viewers being urged to “own (‘Polly’) on DVD Tuesday” rather than telling them to watch “Dateline NBC” on Friday.

Seemingly innocent, the ads may have taken cross-promotion a bit too far.

That’s because the WGA and DGA pacts with the major networks don’t allow the webs to use their credit windows to sell product. Instead, the time is to be used to promote other network programming, shows on local stations (like news) or community service announcements.

Guild reps raised concerns about NBC U’s move after it was brought to their attention by Daily Variety.

“It appears to be beyond the scope of the original agreement,” WGA West assistant exec director Cheryl Roden said. “We would have to look into it further.”

DGA communications director Morgan Rumpf said the guild “does have an agreement that prohibits the running of commercials over the director’s credit in the end credits — which we monitor and enforce.” Director’s credits often run at the top of a show, however, which may mean NBC didn’t violate any DGA rules.

An NBC spokesman said no one from the WGA, DGA nor NBC’s own labor law reps has contacted the net about any “Polly” problems, and as such, the net couldn’t comment. Execs at three other webs, however, said it’s their understanding that guild rules prohibit direct sales pitches.

More crossover

The “Polly” campaign isn’t the only way NBC U is pushing the promo envelope.

It wasn’t a coincidence that this weekend’s repeat of “Saturday Night Live” happened to feature Aniston as host. It was intentionally skedded to air this weekend so that promos tied to “Polly” could air during the show.

Promos for “Polly” and Sci Fi’s miniseries “Five Days to Midnight” have been scattered throughout various NBC dayparts and on all of the NBC U cable holdings — from 10-second spots to bumpers between commercial pods. Peacock has also been pushing both projects via on-screen “snipes” — the text messages that now regularly pop up when a show returns from a commercial break.

Whatever the concerns over one small aspect of the “Polly” campaign, NBC U’s overall marketing push has otherwise gotten off to a dizzyingly fast start — achieving within months the sort of cross-company cooperation some congloms still haven’t fostered, years after mergers.

Conglom has formed a marketing council, chaired by U Pictures vice chairman Marc Shmuger and NBC U chief marketing officer John Miller, to identify a handful of projects each week on which to focus the company’s synergistic sights.

“It’s built into the whole structure and culture of the new organization,” Miller said.

Other congloms have similar marketing councils in place, and evidence of cooperation is never hard to find. It was no coincidence, for example, that Alphabet viewers on the west coast saw a repeat of the Disney-produced pic “Tower of Terror” last week– not long after Disney’s California Adventure opened a ride with the same name. The big difference: Other nets tend to be much more cautious in doling out promo time on their broadcast webs to other parts of company. Nets tend to only give up promo time when there’s a direct swap.

Fox might give FX a 20-second promo spot for an episode of “Nip/Tuck,” but usually only in exchange for, say, 10 spots hyping “The Jury” on FX.

NBC, on the other hand, is so far taking a more liberal approach, allocating a certain amount of on-air promo time each week to hype the products of its sister companies — without insisting on case-by-case trades.

Under the new setup, once the marketing council determines a project should be added to the company’s “hot” list, NBC and its networks begin working on ways to promote the projects on-air — no questions asked.

That’s because, after doing a careful study of NBC’s promo strategy, Miller’s team decided that some of the time being used to hype NBC shows may have been overkill and could be better used on other NBC U projects.

“We found that we had a certain amount of discretionary promo time that was allocatable to the company’s other priorities,” Miller said. “Once you get a show on the air and settled, you can’t help it as much as (newer shows).”

Past experience

NBC discovered the power of cross-promotion a year ago, when a barrage of hype for “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” made that show a hit — and put Bravo on the map as a cabler.

But while Universal Studios Home Video didn’t have to jump through hoops to get the “Polly” promo push, it’s not as if the NBC network won’t ultimately benefit from the new structure.

NBC will no doubt look to the NBC U theme parks to help hype the Summer Olympics and its new fall shows. U Home Video’s Aug. 31 release of “The Apprentice” on DVD will feature an ad for NBC’s “The Contender.”

“Everyone gives, and then everyone gets,” Miller said.

And while the extra promos for NBC U projects may have caught viewers’ eyes last week, Miller said it’s “the creativity that comes out this as much as the shared real estate” that will be the real test of the conglom’s marketing muscle.

On the feature side, that means airing behind-the-scenes footage on the making of U-based Working Title’s “Wimbledon” during next month’s coverage of the tennis tourney on NBC, as well as during USA Network’s coverage of the U.S. Open in September. Likewise, “Friday Night Lights” will be hyped during NBC’s coverage of Notre Dame football in the fall.

Shmuger isn’t ruling out using the NBC promo muscle for tentpole pics in the future, but said that for now, smaller projects might benefit more. “With these cross-promotional opportunities, you can really get that extra push when the budget wouldn’t otherwise (allow) it,” he said.

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