NBCUniversal Wraps Upfront With Huge 12.5% CPM Hikes for NBC

Finishes up a tough year for buyers

The final broadcaster has crossed the upfront finish line.

NBCUniversal has finished its upfront business, securing CPM (cost per thousand viewers reached) increases of 12.5 percent for NBC in prime time, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts announced this morning during Comcast's earnings call with investors.

The company's cable networks also saw double-digit CPM increases, said NBCUniversal president and CEO Steve Burke. USA was up 13 percent, E! jumped 12 percent and Bravo was up 10 percent. "We had a wonderful upfront," said Burke.

Volume was up 10 percent on the broadcast side, and 5 percent overall across NBCUniversal's entire portfolio. "We could have sold more if we wanted to," said Burke, who said that the networks sold 75-80 percent of their inventory in the upfront.

Those hikes are in line with the double-digit upfront CPM increases secured by other broadcasters in what turned out to be every bit as lucrative as network executives had promised. "We knew it was going to be ugly," said one buyer last week, assessing this year's market, "but we had no idea."

It took NBCUniversal two weeks longer to finish upfront business this year than in 2015 when it wrapped a $6 billion upfront, which the company said had been up 2 percent from the 2014-15 upfront (that tally did not include the Rio Olympics). For NBC, last year's CPMs were up 5 percent, while volume was up 1 percent.

The year's upfront tally was slightly above $6 billion, according to a source familiar with negotiations. Demand was particularly strong for Sunday Night Football and NBC's new Thursday Night Football package, as well as late night and news.

After winning two consecutive seasons in adults 18-49, NBC slipped to No. 2 this past season, behind CBS, which got a boost from Super Bowl 50. But the network hopes to reclaim the throne with a strong lineup that includes even more NFL football (the network now has five weeks of Thursday Night Football in addition to its Sunday Night Football package), a fourth drama in its Chicago franchise (Chicago Justice) and a deep midseason bench of shows like The New Celebrity Apprentice, now hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger; a Blacklist spinoff (Blacklist: Redemption); and drama Taken, based on the Liam Neeson movie franchise.

Its fall shows include comedy The Good Place, which will mark Ted Danson's return to NBC for the first time since Cheers, and a pair of dramas, Timeless (which will air in the same post-Voice time slot that launched The Blacklist and Blindspot) and This Is Us. NBC will use The Voice to launch all three of its fall series this year.

This year NBCUniversal held its first combined upfront presentation, covering two broadcast networks, 15 cable networks and all of its digital properties in a single event at Radio City Music Hall that somehow wrapped in less than two hours. Burke called it "the biggest upfront that has ever existed."

Instead of network by network, night by night, the entire portfolio's shows were grouped together by theme. "We want you to see entire portfolio through the eyes of our audiences" and experience the shows like they do, said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships.

However, many attendees felt overwhelmed by dozens of sizzle reels, with buyers and some NBCU execs expressing hope that the company fine-tunes the presentation for next year. Still, it had the desired effect, given the increases that Yaccarino and her team were able to secure.

NBCUniversal's news closes the books on this year's broadcast upfronts. Despite reports that claimed they would be wrapped by the July 4 weekend, it took more than three additional weeks for all the deals to be finalized.

The Fox Networks Group—which includes Fox, FX and all other company networks except for Fox News—finished its upfront business two weeks ago, while ABC completed its sales on July 6. CBS and sister network The CW each wrapped up their upfront deals on June 27.