NBC likely to nix upfronts

Zucker may forgo sales presentation

Even if the WGA strike ends in the next few weeks, it seems increasingly likely that NBC won’t put on its annual Radio City Music Hall sales spectacular for Madison Avenue in May.

In recent weeks, NBC U supremo Jeff Zucker has been dropping broad hints that he’s ready to forgo the sales presentation that’s been a staple of the TV calendar for decades. His most recent remarks came during an interview with the Financial Times, in which he suggested the strike will lead to a number of permanent changes in the TV biz.

“Things like that are all vestiges of an era that’s gone by and won’t return,” Zucker suggested.

He was even more specific in another interview with Reuters last week.

“When people say the upfront, there are two things: One is the dog-and-pony show at Radio City and the second is the way we sell the inventory,” Zucker said. “The way that we sell the inventory in an upfront selling period is not going to change. Whether we still need to do the dog-and-pony show is completely under review here and you can look for an announcement on that from us very soon.”

People familiar with the situation expect a formal decision by Zucker within the next few weeks, perhaps as soon as next week.

So far, no other network suits have been as blunt in suggesting they might curb their upfronts. Indeed, if the strike is settled within the next month or so, it seems likely that the majority of nets will still try to do an upfront pitch of some sort. If not, then it becomes more likely this year’s upfronts will be dramatically pared back. Either way, some changes are likely.

“We may not kill them but they could be different,” one webhead said. “As it is, they have gotten shorter and shorter.”

It’s believed CBS will wait to see how long the strike lasts before making a call. For now, the net is debating the matter internally and discussing it with its ad clients.

ABC is also said to be undecided, while top-rated Fox — which last year got good marks for its in-and-out hourlong presentation — seems most likely to reprise its May upfront.

Even if NBC decides to ditch its pitch, net might yet compromise and decide to throw a party for advertisers during upfront week. That would still allow the net’s sales team to schmooze ad buyers, but avoid the expense of renting out Radio City.

Meanwhile, Zucker told the Financial Times the strike might actually help Hollywood fix some of its long-running problems.

“I think there were a tremendous number of inefficiencies in Hollywood and it often takes a seismic event to change them, and I think that’s what’s happened here,” Zucker said of the strike, predicting that “the development process will change forever.”