NBCU’s Experience Gets Mixed Buyer Reviews

Media buyers today (May 12) gave the NBC Experience, the TV network’s upfront event, mixed reviews, with some lauding the network for trying something new and innovative, while others said it was using the new format to cover up its programming shortcomings.

After bringing in buyers and advertisers in early April–more than a month before the traditional upfront presentations–to detail its programming plans for the next year, NBC used its upfront slot to have clients pass through a number of stations throughout the day that highlighted the network’s multi-platform media assets in a live setting.

There was an NBC Universal high definition theater, where clients could watch NBCU HD network programming. The net also presented live internally fed broadcasts of NBCU-owned Access Hollywood in which co-host Nancy O’Dell interviewed assorted stars from NBC’s new fall shows. Photo ops with the stars of NBC reality show American Gladiators were on offer and the announcers from Sunday Night Football were there signing autographs.

Food from NBCU-owned Bravo’s reality series Top Chef was served and there was a section with highlights from prior Olympics and promos for the upcoming Summer Olympics on NBC from Beijing, China. The talking car from the new NBC series Knight Rider was on display.

Buyers were allowed to take as much time as they wanted for the walk through. But at some points, the crowds became so large that attendants were urging people to walk through rather than dawdle.

In general, the goal was to impress on media buyers just how many ways there are to advertise with NBC and NBCU, with television just being one way. For example, an actual gas pump with TV screen that NBC is using for both messaging and programming shorts at selected gas stations around the country was on display as well as sections hightlighting train car and arena advertising.

The day culminated with a mega cocktail party, NBC’s most elaborate in years, at which Conan O’Brien offered up a short comedy routine, and NBCU president and CEO Jeff Zucker said just a few words of welcome.

But did it motivate buyers and advertisers to spend more money with NBC and its wide ranging media platforms in the upfront?

Most buyers said no. Even the those who praised the event said it might help NBC more in the long run than in the short run. One major media agency executive, who asked not to be named, said, “I think NBC is doing this for its own vanity and to impress the people in the Hollywood community. I think they are in trouble.”

But other buyers were more upbeat.

“NBC is the only network that is focusing on the future and kudos for them for trying something different,” said Donna Speciale, president of investment and activation at media agency MediaVest. “Prime-time television is not the only game in town any more. Ratings continue to decline and new ways have to be offered to reach consumers. That’s what NBC Everywhere is all about. It may not reap great benefits this year, but this is the future.”

John Swift, executive vp and managing director of media activation at media agency PHD, said the NBC Experience shows the network is willing to work with advertisers to offer opportunities across all platforms. “They have reinvented themselves,” he said.

But just about all buyers, including the ones who praised the NBC Experience concept, said how much money is spent on the network will still come down to the quality of its programming.

“It all starts with that,” Speciale said, “and branches out from there.”

Another buyer, who did not want to speak for attribution, agreed. “The bulk of the ad spending is still going to be on television, so the shows have to be good. If they are, then the other platforms will offer the opportunity to branch out. But the other platforms are of no value if the show is no good.”

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