NBC Gets In Front Of TV Ad Sales


The upfront ad sales period isn't for another two weeks, but NBC (which, like CNBC, is part of NBC Universal / General Electric) is getting ahead of the game.

Today the network announced the programs on its 2009-2010 TV lineup and is kicking off a series of meetings with ad buyers in the networks studios in Rockefeller Center in Midtown. The peacock is bringing ad buyers into its decision-making process. In these meetings the network will poll ad buyers on which shows should air in which time slots.

I spoke with Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios about this new strategy. TV lineups are usually announced in a formal presentation - a podium on a big stage, stars parading in and out, clips of new shows running on a giant screen, and a big party. NBC's one-on-one meetings with different ad buyers allow NBC to tailor not just its schedule, but also its content to ad buyers' needs. This should make advertisers feel catered to and prioritized. And you can bet NBC is hoping this will lead advertisers to go with them instead of competitors.

The lineup shows NBC investing heavily in scripted shows, which are far more expensive than reality TV alternatives. The network likely has the flexibility to do this because it's slating in Jay Leno at 10 pm, five nights a week, which should cost less than typical programming. And these series could help replace Leno's new show a few nights a week if it doesn't exactly work out. If Leno's show is a hit, the shows will be spread out throughout the year.

Today NBC announced four new dramas, including "Trauma" which is intended to pick up fans of "ER." "Mercy," another medical drama also tries to tap into that "ER" audience. "Parenthood," from Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, who produced the movie of the same name, is a classic play on familial conflicts with proven producers and writers. The fourth drama, "Day One" is slated to launch mid-season, about a group of people trying to figure out what to do after a global catastrophe. (I suppose people will relate to this as they deal with the global economic catastrophe.)

NBC looking to build on its comedic expertise - with "30 Rock" and "The Office" - with two new shows. "Community," starring Chevy Chase, is about a community college. "100 Questions for Charlotte Payne" follows a New York woman who signs up for a dating service. And NBC is building on the success of Saturday Night Live during the presidential campaign, scheduling a "Saturday Night Live: Weekend Update Thursday" for six episodes.

Silverman didn't have any answers about the future of the struggling ad market, but he did explain how the unstable economy is affecting advertisers decisions. Advertisers are demanding maximum flexibility about how their ad dollars are deployed, which means they're likely want to buy more ads during the last-minute "scatter" market rather than committing all their ad dollars during this "upfront" period. Silverman did point to one silver lining: some marketers are looking to grow market share during the recession. This is a strategy Procter & Gamble took during the great depression, and it really worked. Silverman's also optimistic that the advertisers that pull back right now could end up overcorrecting and spending more down the line.

NBC isn't sitting out the upfront ad week entirely, on May 19th it's hosting a comedy showcase in which it'll announce it's full lineup, with all those scheduling decisions ad buyers helped it make. Leno, Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Fallon will schmooze with an elite group of ad buyers. While the other networks host big parties that week, NBC is determined to remind ad buyers of the collaborative work they've done with them so far.

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