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Does General Electric’s ‘Star Trek’ Ad Bid NBC A Quiet Adieu?

New ad taps NBCU movie-studio rival and airs on networks not owned by the Peacock

General Electric may be putting some distance between itself and the Peacock.

A new ad from the financial-and-industrial conglomerate features characters from a film studio that is a rival to NBCUniversal’s operations and appears on TV networks not owned by the large media concern. General Electric acquired RCA – owner of NBC – in 1986, and was the majority owner of NBCUniversal starting in 2011. Comcast acquired a majority stake in the company in 2011 and purchased the rest of the company from GE in February.

In a spot from agency BBDO that launched on October 5, actor John Cho reprises his role as Lt. Sulu from the recent spate of Paramount-distributed “Star Trek” movies directed by J.J. Abrams. The spot shows a new General Electric engine saving the day as the U.S.S. Enterprise finds itself in critical need of more power. The ad debuted October 5th during football and is appearing on NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, Fox Business Network and Fox News Channel.

It’s not that GE is doing anything that specifically trumpets the fact it is no longer in control of NBCUniversal, but one wonders whether the company would have selected the “Trek” motif during an earlier era.

GE may not have chosen a similar media plan when NBC was under its aegis. During GE’s Peacock ownership, its habit of buying mainly NBC and NBCU cable for its commercials was well-known within advertising circles. The idea was that GE wanted to support its businesses.

Now it is running ads on broadcast networks that compete directly with NBC and at least one cable-news outlet that vies with CNBC.

Most viewers probably don’t think a whit about such stuff when they see the ad, which clearly uses the “Star Trek” franchise to grab attention. The company’s “Brilliant Machines” campaign, of which this new ad is a part, launched last November in an effort to put a spotlight on GE machines that incorporate software, data and analytics.

To be certain, GE is likely to continue to support its old company for some time.   As part of its deal to sell to Comcast,  G.E.  agreed to buy at least $59 million worth of advertising per year with NBCUniversal for five years starting in 2012, according to filings made in January, 2011, with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Earlier this year, the company ran a campaign with NBC and its digital properties celebrating the finale of “30 Rock.”

The ad does have at least one connection to NBC: The original “Star Trek” series ran on the Peacock for three seasons starting in 1966.

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