NBCU Plays Up Ad Strategy Rather Than Emphasizing Shows In Upfront Pitch

Linda Yaccarino, Chairman, Advertising Sales and Client Partnerships, NBCUniversal
Alex Martinez/NBCUniversal

NBCUniversal spent two hours Monday morning pitching Madison Avenue, rather than fans of “Mr. Robot” and dozens of other programs, during a subdued upfront presentation.

To be sure, the company unleashed celebrities, with Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Jennifer Lopez, Miley Cyrus, Kate McKinnon, Mariah Carey, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Christian Slater among the luminaries taking to the stage to tout the benefits of advertising with the Comcast-owned media conglomerate. But the ad strategy took center stage this year, even though the company offered a sneak preview of the second season of “Robot,” the cult favorite from its USA cable network and a taste of “Krypton,” the Superman prequel ready for launch at Syfy.

But the stars and luminaries were there in service of ad strategy. NBCU presented programs that might attract fans of reality competition, action-based drama, comedy, sports and more. New dramas and comedies from the company’s flagship broadcast network, NBC, were presented alongside programs from E! and other cable outlets. The only properties that didn’t get any sort of shout-out were Chiller and Cloo, which were lampooned in stand-up material from Meyers toward the end of the proceedings.

NBCU made outreach as advertisers are pressing for the ability to buy with more finesse, as they do with digital media. Thanks to browser information, web advertisers can place ads based on web-surfing behavior or affinity, and TV is now trying to do the same. NBCU ad sales chairman Linda Yaccarino came on stage offering to use data to place ads across the company’s media portfolio with grater specificity than in the past, and with deals that did not necessarily require a foundation built on traditional Nielsen ratings. “‘I don’t run a measurement company, and I don’t run a research company,” Yaccarino said. ” But I’m happy to do their jobs for them” by coming up with new ways of gauging the effectiveness of ad buys.

Ad buying executives seemed impressed by what they heard. “I think people watch content. I don’t think they watch networks,” said Dani Benowitz, executive vice president and managing partner of integrated investment at Interpublic Group’s Magna Global. Advertisers are interested in content that attracts the most consumer likely to be interested in the product and shows that “maintain eyeballs,” she said.

As for the programs, Benowitz said she walked away with favorable impressions of “Emerald City,” an updated version of “Wizard of Oz” that she said mixed a little “Game of Thrones” into the mix; “Trial & Error,” a comedy starring John Lithgow as a protagonist with an edge, and “Timeless,” an NBC drama centered on time travel.

The most unexpected personality to grace the stage at the NBCU event was Steve Burke, the company’s chief executive, who is not given to making lots of public appearances. Burke told the crowd about NBCU’s audience reach and its control over big-audience events like NFL football games and the Rio Olympics. One wonders if his presence adds pressure on Fox or ABC to make their top executives more a part of the mix. Could James Murdoch or Bob Iger take the spotlight at presentations set for today or tomorrow?