NBCU’s Upfront Will Test New Ways to Speak to Madison Avenue

The Peacock is gearing up to honk a different tune during TV’s annual week of glitzy “upfront” presentations.

NBC’s annual showcase has, over the last few years, become pretty predictable. You can usually count on Jimmy Fallon or Seth Meyers doing a jokey monologue, ad-sales chairman Linda Yaccarino talking about the power of the parent company’s broad array of TV assets and  Christina Aguilera and some of the folks from “The Voice” bursting forth with song at the end.

In 2016, the company is revamping strategy. Yes, NBC will get its due, but so will other parts of its operations, which encompass kiddie-cable outlet Sprout and movie-ticketing venue Fandango.. The move reverses a long-held plan that had NBCU mount separate events for NBC, Telemundo and its cable portfolio. Yaccarino bills the event as being “the final exclamation point” on a series of announcements the large Comcast-owned conglomerate has made in recent months about new data and targeting technologies and its ability to cobble together advertising plans that stretch across media outlets and consumer groups.

At stake are billions of dollars in advertising from marketers examining every TV network’s coming program schedule. These advertisers are demanding new ways to reach fragmented audiences across multiple venues. In a long-gone era, a sponsor might just put up 30-second commercials alongside “Happy Days” or “Green Acres” and rest confident in the knowledge the message would get out to the masses. These days, consumers are more elusive, investing more of their attention in streaming video and mobile tablets – so advertisers want smarter plans that stitch their commercials in places most likely to reach the exact swath of consumers they want.

“The real reason we have brought it all together is that we want to communicate to our clients and buyers is that if you’re trying to sell your product or achieve some type of communication with everyone, you aren’t thinking about one hour or one network or one kind of show, but rather something all-encompassing, and we have it all,” Yaccarino said in a recent interview.

Don’t look for NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt to act as master of ceremonies, as has been the practice in recent seasons (last year he broke with convention by playing piano at NBC’s upfront while Dolly Parton warbled a tune). And don’t look for NBC to walk ad buyers through the ins and outs of Monday night or Friday evening.

Instead, the presentation is likely to be organized by audience segment, according to people familiar with the situation. If an advertiser wants to reach a category known as “Disruptors,” for example, NBCU will demonstrate the programs that reach them, or audience segments at various life stages just as those who are newly married or have new babies at home. Greenblatt is expected to make an appearance, along with Bonnie Hammer, chairman of NBCU’s cable division. But audience members are likely to see more of Yaccarino, NBCU chief executive Steve Burke and Cesar Conde, chairman of NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises and International.

Others have tried the technique in the recent past. Time Warner’s Turner for many years held separate events for assets as disparate as CNN, Cartoon Network, and general-entertainment networks TBS and TNT. In 2015, the company brought all its assets together under one tent, so to speak, presenting plans for all the outlets at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. 21st Century Fox last year made more nods to its cable holdings during its presentation for the Fox broadcast network than it has in the recent past.

Executives won’t be the only ones holding sway on stage at NBCU on Monday at Radio City Music Hall. Celebrities are expected to have a strong presence, both on a red carpet and during the event. And even though attendees will likely hear about NBCU operations ranging from Bravo (a cable network) to Seeso (a subscription video-on-demand comedy service), the company’s intention is to get its message out in two hours or less.

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