“So are you experienced? Have you ever been experienced? Well I have. Ah, let me prove it to you.”
Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced?
There was no feedback or fuzz guitar. But there were plenty of bells and whistles and TV screens. Did I mention TV screens, which is ironic in a sense, because NBC Universal’s Experience — its party/tour substitute for a more formal/traditional upfront presentation to advertisers Monday evening — was supposed to immerse clients in all the programmer/content provider can proffer.
And to that extent, it did. In what amounted to some parts carnival, arcade and sponsors’ village, the Experience began with a multi-level floor walk — steered traffic pattern is the phrase at retail — through the NBC Universal Store, adjacent to 30 Rock on 49th Street. Attendees pushed past hallways lined with TV screens filled with images from NBC News, the Olympics, USA’s rookie series In Plain Sight, Sci Fi’s Battlestar Gallactica, Bravo’s Top Chef (no, Heidi Klum’s gams and other Project Runway remnants weren’t visible), and an iVillage home page.
Vertical screens depicted holograms of CNBC’s Mad Money man Jim Cramer, NBC News anchor Brian Williams and Heroes star Masi Oka declaring he would “see you in the fall.”
There were also movie posters on pedestals outside an orb-like theater structure, reminiscent of Epcot (sorry, the wrong media giant’s theme park). Inside a giant Sharp screen rolled trailers for Universal Pictures entries The Incredible Hulk (didn’t that bomb more than a few years back) and Wanted, with Morg Free, Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland).
Funneled downstairs, partygoers passed marquees for Biggest Loser and Celebrity Apprentice, while clips from USA import Nashville Star aired.
Next, visitors were armed with a Go Green sack, in honor of the company’s Green is Universal initiative, and to bag the trinkets and tchotchkes available along the way: a candy bar, whose ingredients could include sponsorships within the NBC store; golf balls, dimpled with NBC characters’ faces; a mini-football that could be autographed by the Sunday Night Football team; campaign buttons (it’s an election year) trumpeting “D’Onofrio/Noth Vote For Both,” “Friday Night Lights Can’t Lose” and “Believe in Steve” (for Carrell); and a small bottle of Moet Chandon from LXTV.
There were also places to get one’s mug digitally inputted into cast photos for the “characters” network’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Monk and Psych.
Computers screens displayed content from MSNBC.com and hulu.com. A mobile display cleverly hung mobile devices, playing NBCU fare. An Olympic video wall was accompanied by a display holding gold medals from the Games in Athens and Salt Lake City
American Gladiators jousted, including red-haired Phoenix engaging some long-haired giant (note to NBC ad sales chief Mike Pilot, buff body parts are top real estate for sponsor tattoos, as anyone watching boxing these days can attest).
Today’s Ann Curry and Meredith Viera were part of the Experience, as were a trio of Deal or No Deal suitcase holders, shimmering in short sequined dresses as they handed out USB drives.
In what amounted to the new Women@NBCU initiative’s installation area, Top Chef acolytes dished out delicacies, while attendees danced past a tripartite woman, whose malleable head, torso and legs alternately reflected messaging about Bravo Affluencers, Oxygen’s Generation O, iVillage’s momtourage and ecomoms.
Segments for Telemundo’s El Rojo Vivo and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (no, his set isn’t a dunk tank) were shot as Madison Avenue members gawked. Meanwhile, a woman waited to interview the Shelby Mustang’s KITT, the talking auto star of the refashioned Knight Rider.
Tickers reminded buyers that NBCU vehicles touch nine out of 10 Americans in some capacity on a monthly basis.
But perhaps the Experience’s raison d’etre was best encapsulated within a cylindrical chamber, draped in hanging silver hooks. The NBC Universal 360 Experience — so said the light swirling on the rug — included a row of TVs, showcasing NBCU’s myriad assets. On the ground stood a poster for Heroes, detailing an episode’s 19.6 million impressions: nearly 508,000 from mobile devices; 43,306 from VOD; 67,169 from downloads; and some 2.32 million from streaming video.
Then, there were those little matters of 2.51 million from cable (encores on G4 and Mojo, were not specified) and the 14.6 million that watched on NBC. Depends on one’s perspective, but broadcast and cable either accounted for 87% of the installment’s impressions, or your Heroes‘ media plan is still 13% light unless it incorporates the other platforms.
At the party under a tented 30 Rock Ice Rink, an internal feed showed Nancy O’Dell interviewing stars as they sashayed onto the red carpet.
In real time, celebrities mixed with Madison Avenue-types: The Donald dished; former NFL RB and SNFer Tiki Barber looked relatively small at the bar next to Anthony Anderson (the writers’ strike sunk his Fox cop series K-Ville, he said) as the latter talked about making the jump to L&O; Bravo’s Work Out woman Jackie Warner worked the crowd; investigative journalist Chris Hansen, presumably sans a pack of pedophiles, made the rounds; and newly christened NBC late-nighter Jimmy Fallon forced his way through the scrum.
Pilot, Lauren Zalaznick, president of the recently established NBC Universal Women and Lifestyle Networks group and NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal Television Studio co-chariman Ben Silverman Ben Silverman all did the glad-hand thing.
In the adjoining restaurant concourse, Bravo D-Lister Kathy Griffin and The Office cast, minus their leader, welcomed client photo ops.
Finally, Conan O’Brien cracked wise, talking about how Sci Fi staffers were invited for the first time because planners knew they wouldn’t be bringing dates and that to truly make media buyers feel part of the NBC Experience, half of the attendees would be let go.
Ultimately, O’Brien introduced NBCU boss Jeff Zucker, who noted that he had promised there wouldn’t be any speechifying. A man of his word, Zucker thanked all for attending and on Pilot’s behalf saluted the advertisers for their support. Within 30 seconds, he signed off with a succinct “see you along the way.”
Now, that’s an upfront Experience.