NBCUniversal Will Use Jennifer Lopez to Take Shot at Fox During TV’s Upfront Week

Shades of Blue renewed season 2
Courtesy of NBC

All the preening and posturing and promotion of new programs during TV’s upfront week means it takes something like a private Jennifer Lopez concert to really raise eyebrows. NBCUniversal will offer just that, giving advertisers access to a J. Lo performance on May 16, the first night of this annual TV-industry hype-fest.

In the process, however, the Peacock may be inadvertently snapping its beak at rival Fox, which has since 2009 hosted a party for ad buyers and clients on the same evening and vies with NBCU at this time each year to capture billions of dollars in advanced advertising commitments.

NBCU’s concert is being held ostensibly to celebrate what the company says is “the first of several collaborations” by Lopez with Telemundo, the Spanish-language network that is part of NBCU’s portfolio. The actress is also a key member of the NBC drama “Shades of Blue,” which has been renewed for a second season. But her appearance marks an upset, of sorts, of a gentlemen’s agreement struck among the various media companies that own TV networks which allow each outlet to carve out its own time during the week to speak to Madison Avenue without the threat of competition. During the annual upfront market, TV networks work furiously to capture what has historically been as much as $8 billion to $9 billion in advance advertising commitments, a figure that has been reduced in recent years by competition from new forms of media, like mobile devices and streaming video.

Lopez is also a former judge on Fox’s “American Idol,” and was recently spotted on the finale of that program when it aired on 21st Century Fox-owned network last week.

For years, NBC has presented on Mondays; ABC, ESPN, Telemundo and Univision on Tuesdays; CBS and Time Warner’s Turner on Wednesdays; and the CW on Thursdays. And Fox since 2009 has held forth on Monday afternoons and evenings, with a 4 p.m. presentation and a party that follows in Central Park. Telemundo is moving from its Tuesday perch as NBCU elects to hold a single event during upfront week touting the company’s entire portfolio of broadcast, cable and digital outlets — not just the NBC broadcast network as has been standard practice.

Telemundo’s concert with Lopez is no small affair. The Hammerstein Ballroom, where the event will be held, seats more than 2,000 people for musical performances — and possibly more than 2,200, according to posted estimates. In contrast, the Beacon Theater, where Fox holds its event, typically seats more than 2,800. Fox and Telemundo hardly cater to similar audiences, but it’s not difficult to imagine that some cross-section of advertisers sponsors both.

The start time for Telemundo’s event is 6 p.m., which gives Fox plenty of time to make its pitch. The time has worked well for Telemundo in the past, when it has typically followed ABC’s presentation on Tuesdays. ABC has in the recent past scaled back its post-pitch celebration, turning what was once a big glitzy event for advertisers and press into a more muted affair for clients and ad buyers. Fox’s party is widely considered to be part and parcel of its presentation.

For NBCUniversal, the scheduling may represent a serving of just desserts. Fox stepped on NBC’s toes in 2009 by taking what was once an end-of-upfront party on Thursdays and moving it to Monday, part of an aggressive bid to claim some of the Peacock’s territory. At the time, then-NBCU CEO Jeff Zucker had decided to abandon the traditional upfront presentation for the NBC broadcast network and instead hold an “experience” around the company’s Rockefeller Center headquarters in New York that nodded to everything from CNBC to “American Gladiators.” Since there was no upfront-as-usual for NBC, Fox executives thought, what would be the problem if Fox held one?

But the maneuver also speaks to how crowded this week in May has become. Advertisers and ad-buying executives who want to take everything in must hoof it to as many as three or four presentations per day, each crammed with vital information about program scheduling, talent announcements, and advertising offers. Even National CineMedia, the movie-exhibition company, has joined the fray, using Wednesday afternoons to highlight the advantages of running ads before movie showings across its theater network.

There is one spot of relief. NBCU, which has used late Thursday afternoons to talk up its cable networks in the past few years, has abandoned the day — or has yet to announce replacing it with anything else.