NBC to Abandon ‘Infront’ Upfront Strategy

NBC will return to the traditional upfront week this year when it will make its new programming presentation for the 2010-2011 prime-time season to advertisers on May 17, instead of at an earlier “infront” presentation ahead of all the other networks as it has done the past two years.

Jeff Gaspin, chairman, NBC Universal Television Entertainment, made the announcement today (Jan. 10) during the NBC portion of the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour in Los Angeles.

Prior to leaving upfront week two years ago, NBC had always been the first of the five major English-language broadcast networks to make its presentation to advertisers. This year it is once again planning to go back to presenting first but will apparently share the day with Fox, which had moved into NBC’s traditional Monday afternoon slot when NBC shifted out of the week.

Fox sources said the network plans to continue presenting on the first day of upfront week with no plans to return to the fourth day where it had presented until NBC abandoned the week.

NBC is expected to make its upfront presentation on the morning of May 17, while Fox will present, as it has the past two years, that afternoon. In past years, prior to the infront, NBC had made its upfront presentation to advertisers en masse at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

During the past two years, NBC made multiple smaller presentations to groups of advertisers at its headquarters location in Rockefeller Center. Two years ago, its infront presentations were held in early April and last year in early May. Upfront week is traditionally held the third week in May.

In announcing NBC’s return to traditional upfront week, Gaspin said holding its presentations as much as six weeks before, or even a few weeks earlier than the other broadcast networks, put too much pressure on its pilot programming process.

From start to finish, the development of one show can take almost a full year. Moving up when the networks unveil their pilots or actually deciding which ones will be on the schedule takes away precious evaluation time for a network’s programming executives. Insiders at NBC said Angela Bromstead, the network’s president of prime-time entertainment, discussed the situation with Gaspin, who agreed to scrap the infront and move NBC’s advertiser presentations back into the traditional upfront week.

“We will really not change the way we approach the upfront, the way we engage with advertisers,” said a source inside NBC. “Our sales people will still meet one on one with them prior to the traditional upfront week.” But revealing an actual list of programs on the schedule for the coming season, including new shows, will now be pushed back to the same week that all of the other networks announce.

NBC has been wallowing in fourth place in the ratings among the Big Four broadcast networks for the past several years, and this year, none of its new shows has been a success, in addition to the failure of Jay Leno to capture a sizable audience when his show was moved from late night into the important 10 p.m. nightly slot.

NBC is now planning to move Leno out of prime time and back to late night after it airs the Olympics in February, which means the network is going to have to once again fill the 10 p.m. hour with scripted entertainment programming, adding five more hours of shows to its primetime schedule. That is a tall order for next season, meaning lots of new shows will have to be announced when a new schedule for the 2010-2011 season is revealed.