NBC Pitches Advertiser Tent Earlier

NBC, which has been languishing in fourth place, attempted to forge an early alliance with advertisers last week by unveiling a 65-week schedule that will, the company hopes, enable savvier and more collaborative marketing strategies.

In his first upfront presentation to advertisers and journalists, Ben Silverman, the co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, stressed the importance of “dialogue” with advertisers, citing the network's partnerships with Liberty Mutual and DirecTV as templates for future business.

Liberty Mutual will link its “personal responsibility” campaign to the NBC movieKings. A retelling of the David and Goliath myth starring Deadwood's Ian McShane, Kings will premiere on the network this fall as a two-hour movie with the potential to join the schedule as a regular drama. Kings will be featured on Liberty Mutual's Responsibility Project Website, which includes short films, blogs, interviews and articles asserting the personal-responsibility themes.

Silverman said the partnership will be limited to cross-platform promotional attributes and on-air promotion. In other words, “there will not be an insurance salesman character” in the film, he said.

The DirecTV deal gives the satellite television provider's 16.8 million subscribers the first look at the third season of NBC's acclaimed but ratings-challenged Friday Night Lights. The drama will premiere on DirecTV Oct. 1, at least four months before the show debuts on the network.

Silverman said the threat of cannibalization with an audience overlap that he estimated at about 15% will be outweighed by the potential to give the struggling show a higher profile, and hopepfully juice DVD and foreign sales. He also said the deal meant that NBC could commission a third series of the show, thereby increasing its chances of recouping its cost via off-network syndication.

Family Time

The DirecTV deal, Silverman said, “lets us continue with this show at what were marginal ratings.”

Silverman also stressed a renewed commitment to 8 p.m. as the family hour, an idea that almost seems quaint at a time when young people have a deeper connection to their cellphones than their parents. “It's an interesting idea because maybe it's something we overlooked in the advance of digital choices and cable choices,” said one media buyer. “So maybe he's on to something. But I don't know how deep it's going to go.”

NBC introduced only four new shows for fall: Kath & Kim, an adaptation of an Australian mother/daughter comedy starring Molly Shannon and Selma Blair; a post-millennial version of the 1980s drama Knight Rider that premiered earlier this year; My Own Worst Enemy, starring Christian Slater as TV's answer to Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne; and Crusoe, based on the classic literary character Robinson Crusoe.

The network will have the considerable promotional platforms of the Beijing Summer Olympics and the next Super Bowl. It will use the big game to launch the much-speculated-about spinoff of The Office.

Silverman declined to offer details about the content of the show, but he did allow that the episode order would be anywhere from six to 13, depending on the output abilities of executive producer Greg Daniels and his staff, who will also be delivering a full season order of 28 episodes, including four one-hour installments, of the original series.

Silverman also promised far fewer reruns than in the past, a response to the often abysmal performance of series repeats in a world where 20% of viewers have DVRs and networks have made their most popular programs available free online.

There will be no repeats in the 10 p.m. hour on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday, which NBC will accomplish by “resting” series and staggering premieres.