The unmistakable message from NBCUniversal’s first-ever omnibus upfront, encompassing all of its broadcast and cable networks: TV kicks digital’s butt when it comes to advertising effectiveness.
“I don’t care what those Silicon Valley guys say — there is no algorithm for heart-pumping, breath-holding premium content,” said NBCUniversal ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino. Her presentation on the stage of Radio City Music Hall included a bit in which Amazon’s voice-activated digital assistant device Alexa was propped up on a chair and delivered statistics to underscore the importance of TV over digital as as means for sponsor messages.
Over two hours, NBCU execs and talent presented a dizzying array of pitches for shows than ran the gamut of NBC’s new comedies and dramas to E’s latest variations on the Kardashian themes to Telemundo’s gritty crime dramas. The parade of clips blended shows and target audiences by themes and psychographic interests rather than networks and age ranges. Think “Rule Breakers,” “Dreamers,” “Buzzworthy,” etc.
The event opened with Jimmy Fallon in “Hamilton” regalia doing a rap spoof of the Broadway smash, with lyrics tailored to the occasion.
“What’s our name, man? NBC Universal. And we’re selling you commercials at crazy rates,” Fallon said as he walked through Radio City to the stage. “We have 10 new shows in the fall and the word Chicago appears in them all.” And the line that got the biggest laugh: “At least we can say we’re the network that fired Donald Trump.”
Here are 10 more things we learned at the NBCUniversal upfront:
• NBCU CEO Steve Burke followed Fallon on stage to talk up the growth of NBCU since Comcast Corp. took it over from GE five years ago. “It’s hard to imagine a time with more change in the media business,” he said. He asserted that NBCU has spent more than $40 billion since then to license content — more than Comcast paid to buy the Peacock.
• Burke asserted that the combined ratings of NBCU’s 10 cable channels exceed the ratings of CBS, ABC and Fox. That’s a stat that is sure to be in for some rigorous fact-checking by NBCU’s rivals.
• And still more fact-checking will surely be applied to Yaccarino’s statements that the average person spends seven times as much time watching TV as they do on Facebook and 15 times more hours watching TV than they do watching YouTube.
• USA’s “Mr. Robot” got a huge plug early on, with stars Rami Malek and Christian Slater coming out to offer the “world premiere” look at season two. Malek made it clear to buyers that the show is no millennial niche play: “I have grandmothers come up to me and say they watch the show.”
• Live, live, live: NBCU is heavily invested in live programming, which it pitched hard to buyers as the best way to reach a captive audience. NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt, who has championed live events on the Peacock, said that NBCU nets in their entirety air some 17,000 hours of live TV across news, sports, entertainment. “Audiences love the live experience,” he said. “It gives us unparalleled opportunities to reach millions of customers who are really engaged.”
• Talent should probably be advised not to ask the crowd, “How are you doing?” Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Lopez and even Arnold Schwarzenegger failed to get much of a rise out of the crowd when they made such inquiries.
• Despite the “take that, digital” theme, a pre-taped video featuring NBC Sports and Olympics chief Mark Lazarus and Arizona Cardinals player Larry Fitzgerald making cupcakes included the pitch that NBC Sports content is widely distributed via YouTube, Hulu, Yahoo, AOL, Vox and Buzzfeed (in which Comcast is an investor).
• “Watch What Happens Live” host Andy Cohen can really rock a white suit, without invoking any “Saturday Night Fever” issues, and Mariah Carey likes to ride around on a throne — she made a grand entrance being carried by hunky young men to talk up her new E! reality series “Mariah’s World.”
• Schwarzenegger looks tanned, ready and rested to take on “The New Celebrity Apprentice” early next year. “Let’s get down to business,” he said with theatricality, suggesting that might be a regular line for the show. But he definitely has pronunciation issues with the name “Paul Telegdy.”
• Seth Meyers has the makings of NBCU’s Jimmy Kimmel. He closed the presentation with a few minutes of industry-specific jokes that hit the spot after a relentless 95 minutes of sizzle reels.
To wit: NBC rejected his series concept that was a mashup of “Blindspot” and “The Voice” — “where Adam Levine tries to figure out what his tattoos mean.”
And: “E’s ‘Fashion Police’ is the only police force that disproportionately targets white people.”
And the one that drew the biggest response: “This is Telemundo and NBC’s first time together — and maybe the last. It may be hard to hear ‘em over Donald Trump’s wall.”