Exclusive: GE Signs As Early Sponsor Of Fallon’s ‘Tonight’

The new Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon will start off plugged into General Electric.

GE, the former owner of NBC, has made a year-long multiplatform agreement to sponsor the late-night show. The deal kicks off with an in-show integration on Wednesday of the program’s inaugural week, when viewership will be high following intensive promotion during the network’s coverage of the Olympics. There will be two more integrations of GE into The Tonight Show over the course of 2014. GE will also host a special area on The Tonight Show website and sponsor the new TonightShow app.

Since the changeover from Jay Leno to Fallon was announced last year, NBC has been crafting sponsorship packages for Tonight. “We’re real close partners with GE, we have a long history with them,” said Linda Yaccarino, president of ad sales for NBCUniversal. “This is the birth of a longstanding creative relationship, and we wanted to go to them with something that is a company priority, the launch of the new Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

In GE’s first integration, Fallon will hold an invention exhibition with three youngsters. GE expects to reprise the bit in May and November. The notion fits for Fallon, who has actually been awarded several patents. It works for GE, which uses “Imagination at Work” as its slogan.

“GE is a company that for 130-plus years has stood for invention, has stood for innovation, kind of what’s next. So in media, we look for what’s on the cutting edge, what’s next. For starters, we love Jimmy, we love what he represents, the future of late night and the future of comedy,” said Linda Boff, executive director of global brand marketing at GE.

“There are a lot of tinkerers and thinkers and builders that were inspired late at night with ideas. It’s the proverbial wake up in the middle of the night and scribble down an idea, so we love the thought of the late night invention and connecting with Jimmy in that way,” Boff said.

“This is a new area for us,” added Andy Goldberg, global creative director for GE. “We really focus on news and sports and we dabble in late night,” with spots running on Saturday Night Live, Fallon’s old show, and to a lesser degree TheTonight Show with Jay Leno on NBC, as well as Comedy Central’s Daily Show and Colbert Report.

“Fallon, with TheTonightShow coming out, was just a great opportunity for us to reach the tech enthusiast, the up-and-comer audience,” Goldberg said. “Also he’s into inventions, that geek side of stuff, so it’s a real natural connection.”

Yaccarino says the integration is creative and organic. “To a Jimmy Fallon fan, it’s so true to his voice. And it would be completely expected and anticipated by the audience,” she says. “It also fits with GE’s creative. That’s when the magic of branded-entertainment truly works.”

GE will also get original content from the show—including interviews with the youthful inventors—that will be available on The Tonight Show website. On-air callout will push viewers online and to download the app, reinforcing GE’s sponsorship, which was negotiated by The Grid, a special agency set up by OMD for GE.

Both parties declined to say how much more GE would be spending with NBC because of TheTonightShow sponsorship.

NBC expects to do more integrations with other advertisers in the Tonight Show now that Fallon’s behind the anchor desk, says Yaccarino, who lured big time advertisers including General Motors, Coca-Cola, Microsoft and AT&T to sponsor former Tonight Show host Conan O’Brien’s show when it launched on TBS and she was at Turner.

“We’re very excited about what Jimmy brings, with his multiplatform fan base and social footprint. We really believe pretty strongly about where we’re going to take the show, and how we’re going to be able to take our advertisers along with us," she said. If integrations are “done the right way, and GE is a terrific example of a great creative opportunity that’s natural and organic, we’ll be doing more of those for sure.”

According to data from research company SQAD’s NetCosts database of advertiser invoices, the average upfront price of a spot in TheTonightShow running from Feb. 17 through the end of the first quarter is about $31,500. 

During the first nine months of 2013, TheTonightShow generated $101.2 million in ad revenue, down from $111 million in the first nine months of 2012, according to Kantar Media Intelligence. David Letterman’s show on CBS and Jimmy Kimmel’s on ABC were also lower. Ad revenue for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon rose to $48 million from $43 million. The key to success in late night is attracting younger viewers, which should help Fallon and NBC.

“Ad spending reductions in late-night network talk shows reflect lower unit pricing, as opposed to fewer spots being sold. The price declines are consistent with ratings trends in key demos and an audience profile that continues to get older. In late night, it’s younger demos that command premium pricing,” said Jon Swallen, chief research officer at Kantar.

Both Leno and Fallon wrapped up big ratings in their final week in their familiar time slots. Yaccarino said NBC expected the bump in viewership and had held back some ad packages from the upfront to sell in scatter at higher rates. “We were able to offer some good opportunities to our sponsors,” she said.

The strong finale ratings for Leno and Fallon reflect “the popularity and relevance of both guys and validate what we thought: It’s the right time for Jimmy to be the next host of the TonightShow.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.