Upfronts 2016: NBCU Throws Some Elbows, Widens Tent in First Unified Upfront Pitch

During star-spangled Radio City affair, media giant pitches something for every buyer

NBCUniversal established what it planned to do at its upfront presentation: tie in two broadcast networks, a large array of diverse cable channels and a slew of digital properties into one neat bundle. It represented NBCU's first upfront presentation as a group, with new shows divided thematically — "Rule Breakers" for spiky dramas and "Fierce" for strong female-driven vehicles, among other headers — instead of by network.

That meant a few fewer network execs on the stage, and more talent, giving the show something of a primetime awards telecast feel. The roster of A-list stars taking the stage, often in pairs, included Mariah Carey, Mr. Robot duo Rami Malek and Christian Slater, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Lopez and Elizabeth Hurley.

"I promise it will only be two hours," said Steve Burke, NBCU CEO. So committed was the company to reinventing the usual approach that NBC Entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt didn't appear until the one-hour mark and NBCU Cable head Bonnie Hammer just moments before the final fade to black.

Complete Coverage: Upfronts 2016

The Radio City Music Hall festivities began with Jimmy Fallon dressed in Hamilton garb, rapping about the new NBC lineup. "Ten new shows appear this fall," he sang. "The word 'Chicago' appears in them all." He also got off a crack about the purpose of the unified show (which, as Burke said, replaced the previous tally of eight separate events during the spring) being to save the company money.

Notably absent from the event was the day-by-day NBC schedule, a staple of upfronts for decades. Sales chief Linda Yaccarino referred attendees to a business-card-sized schedule on every seat, but even that card didn't offer timeslots or days, just a list of new dramas, comedies, alternative shows and live events.

Burke noted the five-year anniversary of regulatory approval of Comcast's acquisition of NBCU came in January. During those five years since, he said the company has invested more than $40 billion in content, more than the value of the initial deal itself.

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Knowing his audience, he also offered a stat about what he called "big nights," which NBCU defines as primetime slots that delivered more than a 10.0 household rating and a 5.0 in the 18-to-49-year-old demo. Of the 61 such nights thus far in 2016, NBCU has had 43 of them.

"Think about what that means when you're an advertiser trying to change people's perceptions of a brand or a new movie or an automobile," Burke said.

New shows getting stage time included NBC's time-traveling Timeless and tear-jerker This is Us, and life-in-heaven comedy The Good Place; USA's Falling Water; E!'s Mariah's World; and Telemundo's El Chema, a spinoff of El Señor de los Cielos.

The shindig also played up key sports properties, including the Summer Olympics, Sunday Night Football, and a share of the Thursday Night Football package. Greenblatt spent just a few minutes on stage, talking up live television, such as the Hairspray production on tap for winter, and special events.

Read more at broadcastingcable.com.