While networks will frequently take swipes at their broadcast competitors during upfronts week, NBCUniversal had bigger fish to fry as it held its second annual combined upfront on Monday morning at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.
Instead of taking aim at CBS or Fox, ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino directed most of her ammunition at digital advertising. “Promising brand safety is a really low bar, and some companies can’t even do that,” she told buyers. “What the hell is a view anyway? Has a view ever bought one of your products? Has a like ever walked into a store, purchased your products or driven a car out of the dealership? … That’s why TV works, because it reaches real people. Honestly, that should be game over.”
Yaccarino continued bashing digital advertising throughout the event. At one point, NBCUniversal aired a video showing online ads playing next to sexually-explicit content, and noted “our competitors don’t use protection” when it comes to presenting safe environments for advertisers.
“TV is the most effective advertising medium ever,” Yaccarino said. “We know it, you know it and our friends in Silicon Valley know it.”
Just in case it wasn’t clear, NBCUniversal spent two hours highlighting its broadcast and cable networks—and its partnerships with Apple News, Snapchat, Vox and BuzzFeed. As Yaccarino earlier told Adweek, after buyers had difficulty at last year’s event keeping track of which shows appeared on which networks, she tweaked the format for this year’s presentation. Each network was given its own spotlight, including Telemundo, E!, Bravo (which has greenlit a scripted event series, All That Glitters, about frenemies Tina Brown and Anna Wintour), USA (which had a trio of intriguing trailers for new seires Damnation, Unsolved and The Sinner) and CNBC.
The company also highlighted a trio of rebranding efforts: Kids’ network Sprout will broaden beyond preschoolers and become Universal Kids this September, Syfy is doubling its scripted series and broadening its scope to including superhero programming (including Superman prequel Krypton) and Oxygen is morphing into a crime network. The Oxygen rebrand features a clever video in which Ice-T, in character as his SVU alter ego, interrogates buyers who are strapped to a lie detector machine. (The buyers were Dani Benowitz, evp of strategic investment for Magna Global, and Catherine Sullivan, president of U.S. investment for Omnicom.) But the Oxygen sizzle reel itself looked largely indistinguishable from ID, which dominates the true-crime space on cable.
While almost every network got their due, NBC clearly stood out. Jennifer Hudson, who will be the newest coach on NBC’s The Voice this fall, opened the event with an electrifying performance of “I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” from her Oscar-winning turn in Dreamgirls.
NBC celebrated its upcoming revival of Will & Grace by airing a teaser video in which the cast eventually breaks out into “As If We Never Said Goodbye.” Then, stars Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally appeared on stage to finish the song live, backed by a full orchestra.
Beyond Will & Grace and This Is Us, which is moving to Thursdays and will help usher in the return of Must-See TV, NBC spotlighted a few of its new shows, including patriotic military drama The Brave and Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, and a trio of shows coming in midseason: drama Rise and comedies Open A.P. and Champions.
Megyn Kelly made her first public appearance as a member of NBC News, appearing onstage with NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, Today co-hosts Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie, and NBC political director/Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd.
In introducing her, Lauer said Kelly was “someone who shares our values and will help to make us even better tomorrow.”
“I’m here. I’m psyched!” said Kelly after she arrived onstage. “I’m thrilled now to be able to anchor the kinds of broadcasts that I’d always dreamed I’d be able to do, that I felt in my heart I was born to do.”
She said her weekday morning show will replace the 9 a.m. hour of Today “this fall” and “will inform people, entertain them, inspire them, empower them, we hope, to take on new challenges.” Her prime-time news magazine, which she said will be “smart, we hope—we’re working on that” and “hard-hitting,” will air Sundays at 7 p.m. beginning next month. That puts the show directly opposite 60 Minutes, which historically airs repeat news segments all summer.
Some of the day’s biggest applause went to the cast of This Is Us—broadcast’s biggest freshman hit and its No. 2 show in the 18-49 demo—which appeared onstage after a video in which fans emotionally shared their connection to the show, and were then surprised on-camera by the actors.
“Here’s to a very long life for the Pearson family,” actor Milo Ventimiglia told the audience.
As the audience’s energy began to flag toward the end, Seth Meyers reinvigorated them, noting that given the empty promises always made to advertisers during the broadcast upfronts, “this week is the definition of fake news.” He also quipped, “So I just showed up. Has anyone mentioned This Is Us?”
With Jimmy Kimmel skipping this year’s ABC upfront to stay close to his newborn as he recuperates from open-heart surgery, Meyers’ appearance might be the closest audiences get to hearing a roast this week.
NBCUniversal closed out the event with NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus, who talked about the company’s big three sporting events next year: the Super Bowl, Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and Hispanic language rights to the 2018 World Cup.
Lazarus highlighted the company’s “compelling and acquisition strategy” when it comes to sports programming, throwing copious amounts of shade at ESPN as he added, “we don’t need to have everything, and we don’t need to overspend.”
Then, after a video featuring opera-singing Minions, the event was done, wrapping one minute under two-hours, just as Yaccarino had promised.