Pride of a peacock

Zucker: Few changes despite weak ad sales

NEW YORK — NBC’s near $1 billion shortfall in upfront advertising commitments was wider than anticipated, but it won’t result in spending cuts in the coming year.

NBC Universal Television prexy Jeff Zucker told Daily Variety the network will maintain spending on new program development and boost promotional spending in the wake of an upfront sales season that put the net behind CBS and ABC in ad commitments.

“It won’t affect programming or marketing,” Zucker said. “When you’re in a rebuilding phase, it’s a time to invest in program development, not to cut.”

NBC booked less than $2 billion in ad commitments for the coming season, down from $2.9 billion last year. CBS and ABC booked $2.6 billion and $2.1 billion, respectively.

Fourth place in the ratings, third place in advertising: It’s an unfamiliar place for the Peacock, accustomed to leading the market in both during the annual upfront sales period, when advertisers commit ad dollars for the coming year.

What lies ahead for NBC is a rebuilding phase in which the network must develop, launch and promote shows to regain audiences lost in the past year. Zucker won’t put a timetable on recovery, but it’s a process that could take several years.

With a diminished audience, NBC isn’t the promotional engine it once was, so the net will have to spend more on promotions than in the past when it could rely on its own highly rated shows to tubthump new skeins.

“I think we’re going to have to look at going off network because our reach right now is not what it’s been,” Zucker said.

Net has high hopes for Tuesday night laffer “My Name Is Earl,” Jerry Bruckheimer drama “E-Ring” and a Martha Stewart version of “The Apprentice.”

The challenge for the network now, Zucker said, is to make prudent changes, but not to panic and make shortsighted calls that could damage the net in the long run.

The net has only four comedies on its fall schedule, and its older dramas have been losing young viewers.

NBC is better insulated against the slump than in previous years; cable, studio and theme-park revenue can offset declines at the network.

NBC Universal’s cable nets — USA, CNBC, Bravo, Sci Fi and MSNBC — are having a robust upfront selling season. NBC’s primetime ad sales constitute 15% of GE’s entertainment unit’s rev, down from 50% before the acquisition of Universal.

“Cable entertainment is performing incredibly well,” Zucker said. “We’re going to continue to push that and keep delivering what we can.”

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