NBCUniversal: Upfront About Its Universal Appeal

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NEW YORK — It may be a damp and dark day in midtown Manhattan, thanks to steady rain and temperatures in the 40s, but NBCUniversal did its best to demonstrate to advertising clients, marketers, ad shop heads and even an agent or two – as well as invited press – that its programming is hot.


NBCUniversal, unlike any other media company in the U.S., can target multicultural groups in ways few others can. Thanks to its Telemundo arm, it can deliver Hispanics regardless of language preference. Thanks to Bravo, it can target the LGBTQ community.

What stood out for NBCUniversal at its official 2019-2020 Upfront event, held Monday morning (5/13) at Radio City Music Hall?

A reel of memorable commercials from yesterday and today kicked off the presentation, with top volume guaranteed to keep the crowd on its toes.

This included a comical riff on the famous Apple Computer ad from 1984, featuring Jimmy Fallon.

A child grabbed a voice-activated remote as part of the faux commercial, and this officially served as the event’s start, with Fallon emerging on stage in the same 1984-style running outfit as shown in the video.

He introduced Linda Yaccarino, Chairman of Advertising Sales and Client Partnerships at NBCUniversal.

“Today we are celebrating advertising and the extraordinary content that makes this industry the best it has ever been,” she said, noting that this is the biggest Upfront week NBCUniversal has ever had – even as noise regarding cord-cutting and OTT growth have made “tectonic shifts” in this industry.

Yaccarino talked of “all of those No. 1’s,” and for her that is a story about scale.

With “other companies” merging and “cleaning up the messes they’ve already made,” NBCUniversal is positioning itself as the leader. In 2020, Yaccarino said, the largest initiative in its history will be seen – its own ad-supported platform with data that is fully transparent and advertising that is fully addressable.

This will see “a gigantic library of old favorite” and new shows … and it will be offered free. “It’s the best of both worlds,” Yaccarino said. “Premium content the way people want it and scale the way brands need it. That is something only NBCUniversal is offering.”

And, now that Sky is apart of the family, NBCUniversal has what it calls the biggest collection of premium content in the U.S. and Europe. It presently has no name, which Late Night host Seth Meyers poked fun at in the latter half of the Upfronts.

NBC’s value proposition goes beyond prime-time, or live sports. NBC’s news offerings, from TODAY to the nightly newscasts, were singled out by Yaccarino. Never mind Jimmy Fallon and Tonight or the Olympic games.

Or Saturday Night Live, with show veteran Kenan Thompson portraying Steve Harvey in a “Family Feud” skit that proved to be an Upfront presentation highlight. The bit pitted NBCUniversal news talent (portrayed by SNL stars including Kate McKinnon) against the company’s entertainment stars.

It was a strong reminder that NBC has an advertiser opportunity on not only Saturday before midnight, but across social media, where SNL content can be found.

Next up: The Voice, America’s Got Talent, World of Dance and other reality programming that have become hallmarks of NBC’s prime-time lineup, and are now big draws across such NBCU cable networks as Bravo.

This preceded an introduction of Latin recording star Luis Fonsi, a coach of Telemundo’s La Voz – who, instead of singing more than one of his own songs, opted to croon a cover of Santana’s Smooth, which featured Rob Thomas on vocals when originally released, and Oye Como Va. Yes, there was Despacito, as Fonsi first moved to a cover of Marc Anthony’s “I Need to Know” and Celia Cruz’s “La Negra Tiene Tumbao.”

Fonsi’s appearance served as an entry to a segment on Telemundo, as the Spanish-language network no longer has its own Upfront; an invitation-only Telemundo evening soiree, which has become a must-attend for Upfront attendees, features a performance by Pitbull.

Kate del Castillo, star of La Reina del Sur, spoke of the show – a ratings leader for Telemundo in the 10pm hour – under the English-language branding Nowhere to Hide.

This concluded discussion of Telemundo, with Rami Malek from Mr. Robot – shown on NBCU’s USA Network – introduced Rosario Dawson for “Briarpatch,” a new USA Network suspense series from the creator of Mr. Robot.

Then, there’s Syfy, the science-fiction and fantasy network, which is offering new series “Resident Alien” as its biggest advertiser show of interest. It’s about a foul-mouthed alien who masquerades as a doctor, trying to keep a low profile while on a mission to kill all of the humans.

If that doesn’t interest marketers and advertisers, perhaps USA’s Monday Night Raw wrestling programming will. That was next up on the Upfront presentation.

Or, perhaps Keeping Up with the Kardashians on E!. This saw tepid applause from Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian and half-sister Kendall Jenner, who shared details on various reality programs across NBCUniversal’s family of networks.

With live sports a major draw for broadcast TV in the wake of OTT’s rise and cord-cutting, NBC Sports played up its wide array of global entertainment, from the PGA Tour to soccer and from NFL football to Notre Dame collegiate games, NHL hockey and NASCAR.

Of course, NBCUniversal is the home of the Olympic Games, and host Mike Tirico boasted that this makes NBC Sports the best fit for advertisers; the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo will include 7,000 hours of coverage across 17 days, with strong marketing partnerships being pitched already for Los Angeles in 2028.

The biggest standing ovation came from the presence of female Olympians from across the last four decades.

But, what about the prime-time skein? Two new Thursday sitcoms are on the way: One has Bradley Whitford (Perfect Harmony) starring as a Princeton University music professor who stumbles onto a church choir in a small town – a group that could benefit from his influence. This will air at 8:30pm ET/PT. At 9:30pm ET/PT is “Sunnyside,” featuring a Councilman in New York who has fallen on hard times who decides to help a group of immigrants who wish to become U.S. citizens.

Coming to the 10pm ET/PT slot on Mondays is “Bluff City Law,” a legal family drama starring veteran actor Jimmy Smits, an alum of NBC’s L.A. Law.

One may question another new show: Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, with a plot remarkably similar to the Rebel Wilson Valentine’s Day cinema offering Isn’t It Romantic?

While the audience seemed to like it, the biggest applause for prime-time came when it became known to the crowd that “This is Us” has been renewed for three seasons.

Of course, there’s much more to offer advertisers and consumers. With all presented on Monday, the ball’s now in their court as to whether or not NBCUniversal’s array of programming makes their mark, or fails to light a spark.