Upfronts: Shrimp, Vodka, Comedies and Dramas

Day one of Upfront Week featured two networks spending big on programming to impress advertisers and improve their fortunes next season.

Ted Harbert, chairman of broadcasting at NBC, opened the network’s 11 a.m. event at Radio City Music Hall, with jokes about the end of a grueling upfront season for media buyers, who estimated had sat through 70 presentations.

“That just has to be too many unless you’re a shrimp salesman,” Harbert joked, adding that the “the biggest beneficiary of 70 upfronts is our friends at Grey Goose.”

That was interesting talk, because NBC offered its guests neither shrimp nor vodka. NBCUniversal networks were responsible for at least seven of those upfronts, and this week will put on presentations-and parties-for Telemundo and USA Network. “If you think we’re trying to surround you this week, you’re right, Harbert said.

Harbert introduced ad sales president Linda Yaccarino, now responsible for selling NBC broadcast in addition to cable, who he described as “tough but fair” and “a pleasure to spend way too much time with.”

Yaccarino described NBCUniversal as a different kind of media company, one that is “integrated, portfolio-oriented and total client focused.” She said “our management team is determined to invest in the content, analytics, technologies and people that will sell more of your products and ideas faster and better than anyone else in media.”

She said the unified NBCUniversal’s sales team is built around NBC.

“When we assemble and align our portfolio and creative marketing capabilities around your strategic marketing goals, we call it symphony,” Yaccarino said. “Symphony is the best way to mobilize all of the opportunities and possibilities within the NBCUniversal portfolio . . . we’ve done it, it works and we can prove it. I believe that when one company can deliver massive reach and target just about everyone and that one company can also deliver creative solutions across a portfolio of the best broadcast, cable and digital media available anywhere, it’s not only a new era in media, it’s also a new era for NBCUniversal.”

Yaccarino introduced NBC Entertainment president Bob Greenblatt, who showed off an upbeat, accessible slate of new comedies and dramas.

Tom Winner, global broadcast buying director at Wieden + Kennedy, called the programming presentation “impressive,” adding that “the dramas looked very strong.”

Perhaps next year NBC will feel like it has something to celebrate and throw a party like it did in its glory days.

In the afternoon, at Fox’s presentation at the Beacon Theater, executives acknowledged having an off year, and then poured on a hard sell and remind ad buyers of the strength of broadcasting in general and Fox in particular.

“This was not our best year,” said Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly. “We did slip a bit this year,” added Fox sales president Toby Byrne.

“We will be No. 1 again,” promised Reilly. “Amen, brother,” Byrne responded.

Fox also addressed the changing nature of TV viewing, noting that despite digital challengers, network TV is far from extinct and still the start of water cooler conversation and a driver of popular culture.

Byrne and Reilly emphasized the power of the Fox brand and the ability of broadcast to deliver reach and immediacy. “Only Fox can give you scale in influential demos in one place,” Byrne said.

The Fox executives said the network remained top among broadcasters in young viewers and was No. 1 in teens and 18-34-year-olds and was the top network in terms of social engagement.

They also noted that while cable shows get a lot of attention, only four of the 1,050 cable shows crack the top 50 most-watched programs.

Of the competition from cable, “none of them deliver consistency of scale and breadth with original programming the way Fox does,” Byrne said. And in terms of the digital players chasing TV ad sales, “the vast majority of that content stinks.”

Younger media agency executives seemed to like the programming Fox presented. Older buyers seemed more comfortable with NBC’s fare.

Fox also got points for its move to bring back the miniseries, now referred to as “event series,” especially a new version of 24.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the L.A. Times and New York magazine.