UPFRONTS, DAY ONE: NBCUniversal opened the first in-person upfront week in two years on Monday morning at Radio City Music Hall with a lengthy presentation that touted the company’s DNA as an ad-supported content company. The messaging was intended to reassure media buyers gathered at Radio City — or watching virtually — that NBCUniversal and its ad-supported streaming service Peacock are engineered to avoid the growth and revenue problems currently plaguing streaming behemoth Netflix. The schadenfreude was palpable, with several oblique swipes at Netflix.
NBCUniversal chief executive officer Jeff Shell, making his debut on the Radio City stage, noted: “We’ve been committed to the ad-supported video business since literally the first moments of our company’s history. This is not an extension of our core business or a pivot. It is our core business. It’s fashionable to talk about how much money [media companies] spend on content. But our real competitive advantage is the breadth and strength of our platforms.”
Those platforms, which include TV studios (UCP, Universal Television), movie studios (Universal, DreamWorks), Focus Features), flagship broadcaster NBC and its affiliate stations, as well as Telemundo, and myriad news and entertainment brands (Bravo, USA, E!, CNBC, MSNBC), NBC Sports’ deep bench of rights (Olympics, NFL, Spanish-language rights to this year’s FIFA World Cup) and Universal theme parks — make NBCU the “number-one company by total reach, period,” claimed Shell.
Linda Yaccarino, chairman of global advertising and partnerships, stressed the importance of advertisers to NBCU’s core business, while also getting a dig in at Netflix. “Advertising might seem like an afterthought or even worse, just a new idea to turn on a revenue stream,” she said, clearly referring to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ post-stock swoon musings about launching an ad-supported tier on his platform. “At NBCUniversal, advertising has always been a part of our DNA and our future.”
The company’s One Platform initiative, which lets marketers target audiences across the NBCU ecosystem, will “future proof the entire ad-supported ecosystem,” she added.
Peacock programming took center stage in the presentation, with “Bel-Air” star Jabari Banks and the rest of the cast of Peacock’s most streamed original on hand to talk up the show’s success and upcoming second season, dropping early next year. New Peacock originals include limited series “Last Light,” headlined by “Lost” star Matthew Fox and “Downton Abbey’s” Joanne Froggatt; “The Resort,” which looks like a “White Lotus” knockoff; thriller “Friend of the Family,” and a limited series “Best Man: The Final Chapters,” which reunites the cast of the hit movie franchise including Morris Chestnut, Melissa De Sousa, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long and Harold Perrineau. Current Kim Kardashian paramour Pete Davidson, wearing a New York Magazine baseball cap, was joined onstage by Edie Falco, who will play his mom in the Peacock comedy “Bupkis,” a fictionalized version of Davidson’s life produced by “Saturday Night Live’s” Lorne Michaels and written by Davidson, Dave Sirus and Judah Miller.
The presentation opened with Kelly Clarkson, who is ubiquitous on NBC (with her daytime-cum-primetime talker, “The Voice” and “American Song Contest”) belting out “Queen of the Night” and closed with Miley Cyrus, who will return to host NBC’s New Year’s Eve countdown this year, performing “Wrecking Ball” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.” But it was “Late Night” host Seth Meyers who provided perhaps the most pertinent send-off for the assembled crowd. Surveying the packed audience at the storied Radio City, Meyers mused: “What a historic room to tell people you caught COVID[-19] in.”