NBCUniversal Fine-Tunes Monday’s Combined Upfront, Giving Each Network More of a Spotlight

Company promises to keep the massive event under 2 hours again

After touting the Rio Olympics at last year's upfront, NBCUniversal will spotlight the 2018 Winter Games this year. Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

One year after NBCUniversal combined its upfront events into a single, two-hour presentation—which CEO Steve Burke called “the biggest upfront that has ever existed”—the company is getting ready to do it again on Monday.

But this time around, execs said, they will do a better job of making it clear which shows and clips air on which of NBCU’s two broadcast networks and 15 cable networks, something that last year’s audience struggled with.

“The goal of last year was to communicate the depth and the breadth of NBCUniversal coming together for the first time and then accentuating it in the finale with the sports moments and the Rio Olympics,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships. And while the company pulled that off, “people walked away maybe a little unsure of what show was on what network,” she said.

That won’t be the case this year. “We’ve changed the show a little bit, where there’s a much clearer voice by brand,” Yaccarino said. This year, the new and returning programs on NBC, USA, E! and the other networks “will be shown and delivered individually.”

"We’ve changed the show a little bit, where there’s a much clearer voice by brand."
Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships, NBCUniversal

As for the rest of the event, expect to hear a lot about the company’s trio of big sports events next year. “You’ll definitely hear that no company in history has ever had the Super Bowl, the [Winter] Olympics and the World Cup all together at one time,” Yaccarino said. “Those events span 25 weeks of promotion and exposure for our customers, so you’ll hear all about that.”

There will be also be appearances from several NBCU stars, including the cast of freshman breakout hit This Is Us and NBC News’ new high-profile addition, Megyn Kelly.

Yaccarino promised that the entire event will wrap up in under two hours as it did in 2016. “We’re even trying to outdo ourselves from last year,” she said. “I think last year we took it right up to the wall, which was about 1:58 or 1:59. We might buy a few minutes this year; we’re trying.”

While NBC used to have Monday’s Radio City Music Hall upfront event to itself each year, network chief Robert Greenblatt said he doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight, even as his network will be celebrating its  season victory in the 18-49 demo.

“The upfront was redesigned to benefit the advertiser,” Greenblatt said. “We sell the whole company—you’re buying This Is Us and Mr. Robot and the Today show, and they’re big, companywide deals. The whole point of last year was, let’s see if we can  reinvent it and tell the people who come to it that we’re not just a bunch of siloed companies; we’re one big asset. And $6.5 billion later, which is a wild success story by any measure and far exceeding any other company’s upfront, it really worked.”

This year, however, “will be a little more network-friendly, a little more user-friendly to the audience,” he said.

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