NBCUniversal and Target Team for Family Movie Nights, Cutting Ads by a Half Hour

USA, Syfy and E! will simulcast Harry Potter films on Fridays; Telemundo also involved

Still from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
USA, Syfy and E! will simulcast Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets tonight at 7 p.m. ET. Warner Bros. Pictures
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Earlier this week, NBCUniversal unveiled general plans to permanently reduce linear ads amid the COVID-19 crisis, but had been short on specifics. Now, the company is detailing one of its new initiatives to roll back ads: It has teamed with Target on a weekly family movie night across four of its networks that will reduce the typical number of national ads by more than a half-hour across the movie’s three-hour run.

As part of its new Stay In Theater Family Movie Nights franchise that starts this weekend, NBCU will simulcast a different Harry Potter film for the next three Friday nights across USA, Syfy and E! On Saturday nights, it will air various family films in Spanish on Telemundo.

Tonight, the three cable networks will simulcast Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, followed by Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on April 17 and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on April 24. Telemundo will air Kung Fu Panda 2 Saturday night, followed by Zootopia on April 18 and Max on April 25.

A standard three-hour movie telecast contains approximately 46 minutes of national ads, local ads and promos. But NBCU will eliminate close to 34 minutes of that content during its Stay In Theater Family Movie Nights.

Instead of 10 ad pods, the movie will contain six ad pods, which will include the standard six minutes of local ad time. NBCU is cutting the typical 35 minutes worth of national ads down to just three spots from Target, totaling one minute and 15 seconds for the entire movie. The company is also repurposing approximately seven minutes of promo time during the telecast to feature behind-the-scenes content related to the movie.

As Americans hunker down at home to stop the spread of COVID-19, Target—and its media agency, WPP’s Essence Global—approached NBCUniversal looking for family viewing opportunities as well the ability to reduce commercials and improve the audience experience.

“They wanted to give back to their consumers,” said Josh Feldman, evp, head of marketing and advertising creative, NBCUniversal. “They are very innovative partner with us and they’re always challenging us in a good way.”

This is the first time that NBCU is simulcasting movies across multiple networks, and also offering a reduced ad load across several networks. It had previously aired shows with reduced ad loads like USA’s Mr. Robot, but on a single network.

NBCU and Target picked the Harry Potter films because they’re family-friendly blockbusters that the company has the rights to air on its cable networks.

Target will run all three national ads—including a piece of creative that had been intended to run in movie theaters (which are now closed due to the pandemic)— as well as a 10-second branded opening spot ahead of the film. The retailer will also appear in tags on some of the promotional content

“We know that families across the country are looking for activities they can enjoy together, from board games to puzzles to movies,” said Rick Gomez, Target evp and chief marketing, digital and strategy officer, in a statement. “Stay In Theater Family Movie Nights provides them with another option as we all do our part to stay home and stay safe.”

NBCU worked with USA, Syfy and E! to shift their schedules to accommodate the simulcast. Telemundo currently runs movies on Saturday nights, “so there’s already an audience for it there,” said Feldman.

After the three-week run, NBCUniversal will evaluate the success of the franchise and decide whether to move forward with it.

The company hinted at this move on Monday, when it announced plans to permanently reduce linear ads amid the COVID-19 crisis. In her blog post, ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino referenced “bringing family movie nights to people across the nation with [an] uninterrupted theater ad experience.”

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.