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Advertisers Seemed Wary of NBC’s Megyn Kelly ‘Sunday Night’ Broadcast

NBC is hoping Madison Avenue will embrace massive ad rate hikes in the fall to support Megyn Kelly’s soon-to-launch morning program. On Sunday night, however, some advertisers kept the anchor’s new newsmagazine at arm’s length.

NBC’s broadcast of a much-scrutinized episode of “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly,” which led with a segment about controversial conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, appeared to run with fewer than the usual amount of commercials that typically accompany a first-run program. Three of the ad breaks led with public-service announcements, which usually run in less desirable ad inventory. Some of the advertisers that sponsored Sunday’s program had their commercials appear more than once during the hour. And many of the show’s commercial breaks appeared to contain a number of promos for NBC programs that is greater than the norm.

The show was already a hot potato for some advertisers. Last week, the chief marketing officer of J.P. Morgan Chase, Kristin Lemkau, tweeted that she was “repulsed” by the idea of NBC giving Jones a platform.  The self-styled provocateur is known for spreading dubious theories about national events — even going so far as to dub the 2012 shooting massacre of children in Newtown, Conn., a “hoax.” The financial-services firm requested that its local and digital ads not be placed adjacent to any broadcast or stream of the segment, according to a person familiar with the situation. It remained unclear whether J.P. Morgan Chase pulled its ads from NBC properties or simply “re-expressed” an advertising schedule so that commercials would run at different times or alongside different programming.

To be sure, several blue-chip marketers showed up to support “Sunday Night.” Procter & Gamble, one of the nation’s biggest advertisers — and most conservative — ran an ad for its Head & Shoulders shampoo. Consumer-products giant Henkel ran two spots for its Snuggle laundry detergent featuring the company’s well-known “Snuggle Bear” mascot. And a number of manufacturers of over-the-counter medications like Icy Hot, Allegra, Aspercreme, Xyzal, Nasacort, and Gold Bond powder showed up in support of the program.

But it was clear from the first ad break — which did not appear until about 20 minutes into the broadcast — that the program was not running with a full complement of commercials from national advertisers. By using public-service announcements, or PSAs, to lead off three different ad breaks, NBC created a buffer of sorts between “Sunday Night” content and the commercials of paying sponsors. PSAs typically run as part of time donated by media companies and appear at a particular network’s discretion.

NBC also used “Sunday Night” to run promos for a wide variety of its programs, including “Today,” “America’s Got Talent,” “Hollywood Game Night,” and “Midnight, Texas,” among other shows.

Madison Avenue is accustomed to running commercials on TV without generating much controversy. But a polarized base of American consumers has changed the game in recent months. Advertisers have found themselves pressured to pull their support of Fox News Channel’s “Hannity” and “The O’Reilly Factor” when the hosts of those programs came under public scrutiny. Delta Air Lines and Bank of America recently yanked some support of New York’s Public Theater’s schedule after reports surfaced that the title character of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” was portrayed as looking a lot like President Donald Trump. Even this year’s Super Bowl was monitored to determine whether advertisers were supporting or speaking out against political issues.

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