Several networks have responded to the challenge from streaming rivals by embracing new event strategies that leverage the power of linear TV over other platforms. That includes NBC, which last month expanded its events schedule and unveiled an aggressive slate of programming stretching into 2024.
But even as it leans into its strengths as a linear network, NBC is increasingly looking to digital platforms as it tries to help its new shows find a larger audience—most notably with the unusual rollout for midseason musical drama Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.
The show stars Jane Levy as a San Francisco computer coder who suddenly begins to hear the people around her sharing their most private thoughts and feelings by singing popular songs (like The Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You,” Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker,” Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” and The Beatles’ “Help!”) that only she can hear.
NBC gave Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist a linear “preview” more than a month ago, on Jan. 7, but isn’t airing the show’s second episode until Sunday night. In the interim, it has been streaming the premiere for free on nearly two dozen digital platforms in an effort to reach the show’s intended audience—younger women—who are unlikely to find the show on linear.
“It’s trying to figure out, what’s the best way to get this show exposed to the audience that will talk about it?” said Jeff Bader, president, program planning, strategy and research for NBC Entertainment, and chief research officer, NBCUniversal.
Its solution was twofold. First, “let’s put it on really early so that we can ramp up some chatter about the show, because we actually think their show is really good.” It’s taking a page from how Fox rolled out the musical Glee in 2009, debuting the pilot in May, a full four months before the rest of the season aired.
In addition to the early preview, NBC wanted to make the episode available where “it will actually be seen by the audience that we think will respond to it,” said Bader.
So in addition to the usual suspects like NBC’s platforms, Hulu, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, NBC also placed the episode on Spotify, Bustle, Tubi, Romper, People, Us Magazine, OK! Magazine, Vulture, In Touch Weekly, Life & Style, Apple News, BuzzFeed, Cosmopolitan, Broadway World, Playbill, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and IMDb.
“We have put it in places that we have never put it before,” said Bader.
NBC says its strategy to build sampling and social buzz has been working. The premiere episode has more than 40 million views on YouTube, with half its audience coming from the 18-34 demographic.
The network said the show has been its top digital launch on record (in live-plus-35), and it has more new followers across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram than any other midseason TV show.
For NBC, Zoey’s scheduling is part of a broader approach to encourage viewers to watch shows on streaming platforms in the hope those audiences will migrate back to linear.
“Our strategy is aimed at finding audiences who don’t typically engage with traditional TV,” said NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy. “It is critical that we bring our content to audiences and not assume that they will just find us in the midst of so much competition and so many viewing destinations.”
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist series creator Austin Winsberg said the unusual rollout was “unexpected, but once they told me their game plan and the rationale behind it, I realized that it was a great way to get it out to the biggest audience to create word of mouth before our official premiere.”
Winsberg admitted that his show “is not the most easily ‘gettable’ for network televisio,” because it’s not a procedural or legal drama. “So the fact that they could try to get it in front of as many eyeballs as possible is really smart,” especially given that the show’s intended younger audience is more likely to watch a show on streaming than linear.
Sending viewers to Netflix
Zoey’s isn’t the only show for which NBC is targeting a digital audience. Its NBC promos for the drama Good Girls, which has its Season 3 debut Sunday after Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, directs them to watch the first two seasons on Netflix. The network had previously directed audiences to Netflix to catch up on episodes of The Good Place, which wrapped its four-season run on NBC last month.
“Good Girls on Netflix is very, very big, and what we are hoping is that we’re going to see a lot of people now who have watched last season on Netflix will come and watch the current season on us because they’ll have to wait a year otherwise,” said Bader.
While some network affiliates have expressed their dismay at NBC suggesting that viewers watch a show on Netflix, Bader said “this is good for them” in the long run. His research team found that more than 20% of people who watched Season 1 on Netflix back in 2017 ended up sampling Season 2 on NBC.
The network debuted the premiere of drama Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector early on Hulu and NBC’s digital platforms, more than a week ahead of its Jan. 10 NBC premiere. “We knew it was going be very hard to expose that show to anyone other than that 50-plus audience that watches Friday at 8,” which is the show’s linear time slot, said Bader.
“The NBC footprint is now a wherever, whenever approach and essentially, we think that the more people who initially watch our shows on any platform, the more people will like our shows and make an effort to seek them out moving forward,” Telegdy said.