NBCUniversal Wraps Upfront, Calling It A “Watershed Moment”

Comcast NBCUniversal
Photo via Mega Agency

NBCUniversal has wrapped its upfront advertising sales for the upcoming season, describing it as a “watershed moment and a clear signal that everything has changed.”

Jeff Shell, the company’s CEO, confirmed the news during a virtual appearance at a Credit Suisse investor conference. Sales chief Linda Yaccarino also wrote a blog post with further details.

No pricing information was offered by Shell, though he said it was “the strongest upfront in the history of NBCUniversal.” After a dire 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, media companies have seen their advertising fortunes rebound this year. Led by digital, the overall ad market has seen a broad-based revival as the economy recovers and Covid-19 infection rates decline.

At the same time, there is restlessness in a number of areas in the market. Streaming, a new focus across the media landscape, has presented measurement challenges. Nielsen has come under renewed scrutiny by networks, which say the measurement firm undercounted viewing during the pandemic. And the traditional September-to-May upfront ethos, which dates to the fall launch of new car models decades ago during the three-network era, has been criticized by media buyers as outmoded.

Yaccarino called this “the first upfront of a new age” and said it indicated that the “marketplace has finally converged and permanently shifted.” NBCU launched Peacock nationally last July and has been positioning the streaming service as a leading ad outlet, asking for rates higher than those commanded by its broadcast flagship, NBC.

NBCU has presented its linear and digital platforms as a unified portfolio for the past few years, driving home the point earlier this year at a tech-style One21 conference. The event preceded the company’s virtual upfront presentation to ad buyers in May.

“We’ve seen universal acceptance of trading principles that were unthinkable just a few short years ago,” Yaccarino wrote in the blog post. “The commitment to meet our consumers where they are, across all screens; the understanding that we can create scaled and customized solutions globally, nationally, and locally; and the need for context, culture, and connection at a time when it’s so easy to be pulled apart. And across the industry, new technologies are being adopted and leveraged like never before.”

While upfronts in the past were “time-bound,” Yaccarino said, hinging on a particular season or schedule and a “narrow slice of consumer behavior,” today the nature of the upfront is different. She maintained that the upfront still emphasizes new content being created but pairs it with insights into cultural and technological trends.

Yaccarino invoked her time not only at NBCU as it was fully taken over by Comcast, but also a past career chapter at Turner during its involvement in the ill-fated AOL-Time Warner combination. “Having had a front row seat to two major media mergers, I’ve seen what happens when they fail—and when they succeed,” she wrote. “And we all remember when our industry adopted the portfolio model a few years ago. That major operational shift absolutely changed the way the market thought about every media company. But it’s nothing compared to the seismic technological and philosophical shift we’ve seen across our industry this year.”

She stressed the need to continue to “chisel away at legacy and free ourselves from the limitations of the calendar” and also issued a renewed call for “accountability and measurement independence.”

In the years to come, Yaccarino continued, “we can keep perfecting the parts of the upfront that still matter, and amplify what works for consumers with the newest, best technology available to us.”

Jill Goldsmith contributed to this report.

This article was printed from https://deadline.com/2021/06/nbcuniversal-wraps-upfront-watershed-moment-1234774734/