TV Upfronts

NBCU Unveils 11 New Ad Formats Ahead of 30 Rock Upfront Event

Plus, what to expect during tonight’s reunion/upfront hybrid

Mark your calendar for Mediaweek, October 29-30 in New York City. We’ll unpack the biggest shifts shaping the future of media—from tv to retail media to tech—and how marketers can prep to stay ahead. Register with early-bird rates before sale ends!

Since 2018, NBCUniversal has accelerated its efforts to create new ad formats, rolling out around 10 new offerings annually for marketers. The company is keeping its streak alive this year, unveiling 11 new ad formats today ahead of tonight’s NBCU upfront event, which will be broadcast on NBC and is doubling as a 30 Rock reunion, with the sitcom’s cast hosting the event in character.

After previously rolling out new formats like prime pods  (its 60-second pod of audience-targeted advertising) and ShoppableTV (shoppable ads), NBCU works each year to “create opportunities for marketers to take advantage of, that are both a better viewing experience for our fans and consumers at home, while also creating a more effective ad environment for our advertisers,” said Josh Feldman, evp, head of marketing and advertising creative, NBCUniversal. “We all know that the traditional way of funneling programming into a commercial pod [back] into programming has gotten a little tiresome, and we needed to improve that.”

This year’s new formats are grouped into three different categories: talent, content and sensory experiences. And while they are being announced the day of NBCUniversal’s upfront presentation, they will be available immediately in the scatter market and won’t be held back until the upfront.

The talent formats include The Talent Room, which connects brands with talent across the NBCU portfolio that is the best fit, whether that is cat lovers or chefs. “An influencer isn’t just about having the highest-rated television show; an influencer is about having a fan base that’s dedicated to them and passionate, and wants to hear what they’re saying,” said Feldman.

NBCU leaned on The Talent Room to find the 19 guest stars who appear in the 30 Rock upfront event, said Feldman. “We used it ourselves when trying to figure out who the perfect guest stars were based upon the script and the needs that [30 Rock co-showrunners] Tina Fey and Robert Carlock came up with.”

Also in the talent category, 1:1 Talent Surprise allows viewers and talent to interact via a branded video chat during an ad pod, courtesy of that night’s sponsor. “It’s a way to get our fans more directly associated with the talent in real time,” said Feldman, but “we will only do it with the appropriate talent and brands. It’s got to be the right match.”

The final talent format, Set on Set, will bring viewers onto a TV set with talent to hear a brand’s message.

The content formats include ProductSync, a recommendation tool for marketers using AdSmart’s audience data to optimize where their products appear in custom content or product placement, which was first discussed during May’s One Industry Update for marketers. For example, for travel brands, ProductSync could find which NBCU shows overindex the highest on high-frequency travelers.

The (This) Matters format gives brands like health care, tech, style and personal travel an opportunity to tell a thematic story, while 1221 Films will offer long-form branded content opportunities for marketers.

Brand Experience takes product integration to a new level where marketers work with NBCU writers, producers and talent to add their brands and stories into the portfolio’s shows.

The final content category format, Next Gen News, enables Gen Z creators to make news stories for their generation with a brand overwriting the program. However, Feldman said, this is on pause during the pandemic until schools can reopen and the company is able to work with students on the format.

The third category, sensory experience, was initially going to be called “experiences” until the pandemic hit, and consumers could no longer participate in experiential public events.

Brand Vision, an example of a format that “draws a bigger spotlight to a brand’s creative,” said Feldman, will use a brand’s signature color palette to connect the programming leading directly into the ad pod. The result “feels like a very seamless transition” and keeps consumers engaged, said Feldman, much as they were for NBCU’s “must-hear TV” format, which debuted last fall with a Royal Caribbean spot.

Pods With a Purpose will use the ad pod to spotlight charitable causes or a brand’s mission statement, while Experiences at NBCU offers experiential opportunities for fans and brands with brand integrations at virtual and in-person events like last November’s BravoCon. NBCUniversal had offered more than 100 experiential opportunities pre-pandemic; now, the company has created sponsorable moments like Today’s virtual plaza.

All 11 new formats are available through NBCU’s One Platform offering, which unites its linear and digital ad inventory. While just-launched streaming service Peacock has its own ambitious lineup of new ad formats, some of these offerings will end up on that platform as well.

“We’re going to take the best learnings from linear and apply that to Peacock, and from Peacock and apply that to linear,” said Feldman.

These new formats, along with the offerings NBCU has rolled out since 2018, are “significantly more effective than traditional advertising,” said Feldman, pointing to company research showing that 92% of consumers say they appreciate commercial innovation over standard ads, and 88% of them are more likely to remember the brand that’s featured.

Inside the 30 Rock reunion

NBCU will spotlight some of the formats in the 30 Rock upfront hybrid—which is officially called 30 Rock: A One-Time Special—including the Scripted Commercial Launch, introduced in 2018, where a scene ends, seamlessly transitioning into an ad for whatever was just discussed.

Several times during the telecast, “they’ll be talking about something very specific—an NBCU brand, in this case—that will lead directly into our promos for that brand,” said Feldman of the promos that will run instead of advertising during the hour-long telecast.

After having to cancel its annual May Radio City Music Hall event four months ago, NBCUniversal was left scrambling for an upfront alternative.

“We knew that everything that we’ve been doing has been more of a direct-to-consumer focus than ever before, so we came up with the concept of, why not bring the upfront itself directly to consumers but still have our advertising message as part of that,” said Feldman.

Reuniting the cast of the NBC sitcom 30 Rock, which went off the air in 2013 (and is airing on Peacock), made sense, because “that show always was a wink and a nod to the television industry,” said Feldman. The NBCU team briefed Fey and Carlock on their upfront messaging, “and then they created this incredible storyline” which incorporates stars Fey (Liz Lemon), Alec Baldwin (Jack Donaghy), Jane Krakowski (Jenna Maroney) and Jack McBrayer (Kenneth Parcell).

Working on the special with Fey and Carlock has been “an incredible career opportunity of a lifetime,” said Linda Yaccarino,  NBCUniversal’s chairman of advertising and partnerships, adding that the special manages to be “laugh-out-loud funny” while also communicating NBCUniversal’s heft and capabilities to an audience of marketers and casual viewers. “You’re going to feel like your old friend rang your front doorbell and stormed right in and delivered you the most hilarious hour of your life.”

However, many of NBC’s biggest local affiliate groups won’t be broadcasting tonight’s special, in part because they feel it will be promoting Peacock, in essence encouraging viewers to shift from linear to streaming. But all of NBC’s owned-and-operated stations will broadcast it, which include the country’s biggest markets like New York, L.A., Chicago, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Boston and Philadelphia.

The telecast will also screen for marketers at this afternoon’s first annual NBCUniversal Creativity Summit and will air Friday on NBCU’s cable networks Bravo, E!, SyFy, USA Network and CNBC. Additionally, it will be available to stream Friday on Peacock and the NBC app.

The special won’t focus just on Peacock, said Yaccarino, but the entire NBCU portfolio, including NBC, Telemundo, Bravo, E!, Oxygen, USA, and NBC’s news (MSNBC and Today) sports (including the Summer Olympics, football and hockey) divisions.

“You’re going to be blown away by the breadth of this company, all wrapped up in one hilarious episode,” said Yaccarino.