The more things change for NBCUniversal, the more they stay the same. While owner Comcast was busy playing high-stakes poker with Disney, with 21st Century Fox as the jackpot, the company stayed focused on its upfront negotiations, and once again crossed the finish line with the biggest haul of any media group: more than $6 billion in upfront sales, according to a source close to negotiations.
Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts made the announcement during this morning’s earnings call. He said the total upfront volume rose five percent across the NBCU portfolio, with CPM (cost per thousand viewers reached) gains in the high single digits. Digital volume was up 25 percent.
NBC broadcast prime volume was up 7 percent, with broadcast prime and late-night CPM increases of between 11 and 13 percent, according to the source.
As cable news revenue continues to grow, MSNBC led all NBCU networks in volume gains, with 30 percent year-over-year growth. Telemundo saw 3 percent volume gains.
While NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said on the earnings call that this was NBCU’s “strongest upfront” in the seven years since Comcast took over the company, this year’s overall upfront haul will fall short of last year’s upfront tally, which was near $6.5 billion. That’s primarily because NBC no longer has rights to Thursday Night Football, after it (and CBS) were outbid by Fox.
“This is the fifth year we’ve led the upfront,” said Burke.
But even without Thursday Night Football, NFL upfront revenue was robust, with CPMs up 7 percent.
The company transacted upfront business on its new CFlight unified advertising metric, which measures live, on-demand and time-shifted commercial impressions of episodes on every platform.
In this year’s upfront market, NBCU reduced ads by 10 percent in all its prime-time original series across its entire broadcast and cable portfolio (50-plus shows in all) beginning in September. It also created a 60-second “prime pod” of audience-targeted advertising in the first or last breaks of all those shows.
The “prime pod” interest surpassed NBCU’s expectations, with sellouts for shows like This Is Us and The Voice.
Buyer demand was strongest for This Is Us, Today and new shows like Bravo’s Dirty John.
Interest also increased for NBCUniversal’s Audience Studio audience targeting offerings, with more than 150 national brands using its ATP product.
The strongest upfront categories this year included financial services, pharmaceutical, insurance, theatrical and tech.
NBC set its fall premiere dates last month, with most shows debuting the week of Sept. 24.
During NBCUniversal’s upfront presentation in May, ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino continued blasting legacy metrics and the Facebooks and Googles of the world.
“Nothing brings people together like television,” she said to buyers. “Come on, no family has ever gathered around a news feed before.”
Yaccarino’s $6 billion-plus upfront haul was roughly one-tenth of parent company Comcast’s $65 billion offer to buy Fox. That bid had trumped Disney’s initial $52.4 billion bid, until Disney raised its offer to $71.3 billion. Last week, Comcast officially bowed out of battling Disney for Fox, and said it would instead focus its efforts on securing 61 percent of European media giant Sky.
The upfront market heated up in mid-June, as The CW, Fox and CBS all crossed the finish line within a week of each other. But things then quieted down for another month until last week, with Viacom, Discovery and Disney-ABC each wrapping its negotiations.