NBCUniversal's Upfront Show Goes On, Replacing Star Power with Song Power

By Upfronts/NewFronts Archives
Cover image for  article: NBCUniversal's Upfront Show Goes On, Replacing Star Power with Song Power

For NBCUniversal, Upfront Week's traditional leadoff hitter, its 2023 presentation at Radio City Music Hall yesterday was nowhere near an atypical one. Many attendees wondered what they would be in for, given the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike prompting previously scheduled actors, series creators and showrunners to bow out, the firing of NBCU Chief Executive Officer Jeff Shell and the sudden departure of ad sales leader (and the company's key Upfront co-host) Linda Yaccarino to become Twitter's Chief Executive Officer. In the end, NBCU went forward with an event that was dim on star appearances but bright on production numbers. At the end, the crowd appeared satisfied with the show.

The Big Message: Advertisers sticking with their current NBCU spending plans or expanding them in the upcoming 2023-24 season will have plenty of original content coming their way on various linear services to achieve campaign results, no matter how long the writers' strike lasts. They'll get more bang if Peacock, able to reach a wide variety of demographics with its content diversity, becomes central to their future ad commitments. "We're set for the future, and able to (deliver that future) at scale. We have the power to move the needle," declared Mark Lazarus, NBCUniversal's Chairman of Television and Streaming. "We know how to mine content across devices and screens. We're ready to pull levers as the landscape dictates."

Hosts: Lazarus, Interim Chairman of Global Advertising & Partnerships Mark Marshall (replacing Yacarrino) and other NBCUniversal executives handled individual segments, while key talent from NBC News, NBC Sports, Telemundo and various NBCU cable networks presided at other times.

What Worked: "Ads," a clever opening number featuring Ted (pictured at top), the abrasive talking bear from the popular movie franchise (and soon-to-premiere Peacock series) high-stepping on a screen below a troupe of black-tie Broadway dancers on stage, supported by a neon NYC skyline backdrop. Salty language prevents my repeating some of the best lines in this column. Also scoring: new The Voice judge Reba McEntire delivering her hit song "Don't Let Me Down," and a pair of closing tunes by pop star Nick Jonas (pictured above).

What Also Worked: Classy acknowledgments of Yaccarino's accomplishments at NBCU from both Lazarus and Marshall. Lazarus extended that tone to the striking writers. "They have the right to protest and we respect that," Lazarus said. "We can work this out." A filmed segment featuring series creators/showrunners, including Tara Hernandez from new Peacock sensation Mrs. Davis andLaw & Order/Chicago series trio overseer Dick Wolf, stayed in the presentation, with a disclaimer that the segment was filmed last month, pre-strike.

What Didn't Work: Matching up an excellent video preview of NBCUniversal's Olympics programming next summer from Paris with a live song from a hard-rock band. You could not make out the lyrics from start to near-finish because the band was too loud. It was a far cry from illustrating Olympics action with stirring music by John Williams or the Whitney Houston classic "One Moment in Time." Also, and of more importance, why didn't this segment give the audience details about how this Summer Olympics will play out over NBC, Peacock, Telemundo and other NBCUniversal services -- info that was issued in a press release to journalists the week before?

Data Points: Bravo is now the top cable channel among women 25-54, while the revival of Night Court on NBC was the broadcast network's top comedy series premiere in four years. Multi-hour news/lifestyle information program Today, marking 75 years on TV in 2023 (and recent winner of an institutional Peabody Award) reaches 85 million people a month live on NBC or running on Peacock and digital.

News: For the first time, Peacock will carry a primetime National Football League regular-season and playoff game exclusively this upcoming season (December 23 and January 13, respectively). Elsewhere at Peacock, eight-episode true crime miniseries Based on a True Story, starring Kaley Cuoco, Chris Messina and Tom Bateman, will debut June 8. Saturday Night Live will mark its upcoming 50th season in several ways on NBC in 2025. Bravo's popular Bravocon festival will be back later this year, happening in Las Vegas.

Parting Words:

"What was more surprising -- being greeted by a foul-mouthed teddy bear, or seeing me on stage?" -- Mark Lazarus, NBCUniversal Chairman of Television and Streaming

"We have a great story to tell with creative bets, big swings and absolutely success. Whatever the next big thing is, there's a chance it will begin here." -- NBCUniversal Entertainment Content Chairman Susan Rovner

"How amazing they made me appear. If only they could make other people I know disappear." -- Ariana Madix, Vanderpump Rules cast member

"This marketplace is going to be extremely competitive, which means you need every impression to work harder than ever." -- Mark Marshall, NBCUniversal Global Advertising & Partnerships Interim Chairman

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