NBCU Ad Sales Chief Ready for 'Traditional' Upfront, Explains BravoCon Delay

Mark Marshall hopes for 'no surprises' ahead of NBCUniversal's 2024 upfront event

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NBCUniversal doesn’t want any surprises heading into this year’s upfront week.

Last year’s NBCU upfront event from Radio City Music Hall had to overcome several unexpected hurdles. In addition to Hollywood strikes keeping entertainment talent on the sidelines, NBCU’s former ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino exited the company for Twitter/X days before its upfront presentation. The major shakeup led to last-second changes for the event, including current ad sales chief Mark Marshall’s part shifting around to close things out.

This time around, it will be a different story—hopefully.

“We’re looking for no surprises,” Marshall told ADWEEK. “We’re looking forward to actors and writers all being there. I think we will have a more traditional upfront.”

The company will have plenty to tout during its more traditional event, including the Paris Olympics; an exclusive NFL streaming game; SNL’s 50th anniversary; and its cross-portfolio, audience-based advertising through One Platform Total Audience.

Marshall recently spoke with ADWEEK about what marketers can expect, how early talks have already begun for NBC’s 2026 Super Bowl, and why BravoCon—the company’s premiere fandom convention—is sitting out 2024.

ADWEEK: Last year, we had Hollywood strikes and Linda Yaccarino’s unexpected exit. I’m assuming we’ll see Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers and others this year again. Are you looking forward to a different presentation this time around?

Mark Marshall: I would say, other than my wife and daughter who were in the crowd last year, everyone will be much more excited to see celebrities as opposed to me. I will play a smaller role—thankfully—as we move forward.

Last year was a challenge, but I think it also was interesting that we still were able to put on—credit to the team—a really great show by using our news talent, using music, as well as using our reality stars. We felt great about the show that we put on, but there’s no doubt we’re excited to have some of the familiar faces back this year, have a little bit more of a traditional upfront but some new surprises as well.

SNL’s 50th is coming up. What are the tentpoles you’re excited about this year?

SNL 50 is a big one. We’re very excited, and we will be announcing partners around the upfront. Starting off the year will be the Olympics, so Olympics will play a role in this upfront even though we’re only a short period away from that. But the excitement and enthusiasm that we have around the Paris Olympics is nothing like I’ve seen in my 10 years here—not only a consumer sentiment, but from a sponsor sentiment. We feel really great about where we’re at on that.

We will have some new programming that we’ll show as well, and then obviously next year, which will be at the tail end of next year, will be BravoCon. We’ll be coming back in fourth quarter of 2025.

Since you mentioned BravoCon, what’s the reason for postponing until 2025? Especially after a successful 2023 event in Vegas? Will it still be part of this upfront presentation?

If you think about our schedule, our big events: Even-numbered years are typically Olympics and Super Bowl. And what we’re looking to do is try to create a moment where BravoCon could live in the odd-numbered years as we go into this period. Because 2026, we will have the Olympics, Super Bowl, a World Cup here in North America, as well as Big 10 and other big events. What we didn’t want to do is have BravoCon get lost because it is such a great, passionate fanbase. But this year in this upfront, we will be having a couple smaller events that we’re announcing as well. So there will be Bravo representation.

If you think about our schedule, our big events: Even-numbered years are typically Olympics and Super Bowl. And what we’re looking to do is try to create a moment where BravoCon could live in the odd-numbered years as we go into this period.

Mark Marshall, chairman, NBCUniversal ads and partnerships

Speaking of your upcoming Super Bowl, have talks already started for the 2026 game?

We have people that we have multi-year deals with that go across either entertainment or entertainment and sports, so ongoing conversations as it relates to not only Super Bowl discussion, but Olympics, SNL 50. We have a lot of these events that span multiple broadcast seasons. So we’re having discussions with these people.

I think the upfront will also evolve. We’ve always thought about it as you’re reserving these big tentpole events across the year, which is true. But as we continue to evolve, we have conversations with people who are looking to reserve audiences throughout the year. And that was not part of a traditional negotiation in the past.

You were at Turner Sports for years, and have been at NBCU for 10 years. What can you tell us about the importance of sports in this upfront?

Sports is definitely having a moment, men’s and women’s sports. If you go back to 2023, all of our major sports grew on linear as well as digital, meaning it’s not cannibalizing anything that we’re doing. It’s actually finding new audiences. One of the reasons why people have gone to sports—and why broadcast primetime still matters—is people have figured out that—as great as streaming is—streaming also has a very wide swath related to reach. It takes a while to build reach on streaming. Sports and broadcast primetime delivers that immediate impact, immediate scale.

You’ve had announcements around One Platform Total Audience and generative AI. What role does measurement play this year?

Measurement continues to be the core of everything that we do. One Platform Total Audience is really at the forefront of guaranteeing cross-platform strategic audiences, so it makes sense that we partnered with [VideoAmp]. But the big focus for us is really trying to evolve the marketplace and make sure that we’re delivering for our clients. There aren’t many clients who are saying, “I have so much money. I don’t know what to do with it.” We want to make sure that we’re making every dollar work harder.

Is there anything we haven’t touched on you think is important for marketers to know ahead of upfront week?

We’re excited. I used to have a lot more hair. But you can see it was taken care of. We have a lot going on overall, but we’re very happy. What you’ll hear from us consistently—our obsession is—how do we make our advertisers marketing more effective? That is our lens we look at. How we invest in technology, how we program: Everything we do goes through that lens.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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