Even from the big stage at Radio City Music Hall to convince buyers to spend their ad dollars on linear TV, NBCUniversal couldn’t help but veer the conversation at points to the hottest platform, streaming, and the OTT service that the company will roll out next year. Kicking off upfronts week, NBCU’s upfront presentation Monday morning set the course on how these behemoth media organizations will tackle keeping linear at the forefront of the conversation while proving its worth—and showing those in the room that they’re attempting to meet consumers where they’re most likely to watch content.
“We are launching our own ad-supported platform,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman, NBCUniversal, advertising and partnerships. “While other companies are pushing advertisers out, we’re bringing you in with inventory that’s full addressable, data that’s fully transparent and an experience that consumers can enjoy and trust all along with a slate of new originals and a gigantic library of old favorites.”
“The shows that people love the most and stream the most are coming home,” she added, which seemed to be the clearest indication yet that The Office, which was produced by NBCUniversal and was Netflix’s most-streamed show last year, will be migrating to the new streaming service.
Though Yaccarino spent more time onstage (making two separate appearances) than she has in several recent upfronts, she’ll pass the upfronts baton to her two lieutenants, Mark Marshall and Laura Molen, who briefly appeared onstage.
During its presentation, NBCU brought its top talent on-stage, including some friendly faces who don’t even have new programming coming out this year, like Tina Fey (who appeared alongside Amy Poehler). Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian, as well as Kendall Jenner, made an appearance. Eighteen medal-winning U.S. Olympians, all of whom were female, got the event’s only standing ovation when they appeared on-stage together. They were there to promote next summer’s Tokyo Olympics, as the company has exclusive U.S. Olympics rights through 2032.
The event, which was chopped to about an hour and 40 minutes—roughly a half-hour shorter than last year—also featured the cast of This is Us (whose three-season renewal was warmly applauded by the audience) and some cast members from Saturday Night Live, who performed the show’s popular Celebrity Family Feud sketch on-stage.
Playing to the crowd, the sketch pinned NBCUniversal News up against NBCUniversal Entertainment. Notably, Pete Davidson impersonated the frequently subdued Rami Malek, who appeared minutes later to promote Mr. Robot. When he showed up, the crowd couldn’t stop laughing—but if Malek got the joke, he didn’t let on to the audience.
The network’s news showing was also strong, and execs put Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Rachel Maddow, Becky Quick, Jose Diaz-Balart, Chuck Todd and even Brian Williams—making his first upfront appearance since NBC suspended him back in 2015 for exaggerating his role in a helicopter episode in Iraq—on-stage together. The news organization has often used the upfront to introduce heavy hitters, most notably in its 2017 upfront that hasn’t aged well: Megyn Kelly being brought on-stage by Matt Lauer.
The #MeToo movement wasn’t entirely lost in the presentation on Monday. Mariska Hargitay, star of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, appeared to tease the show’s upcoming 21st season.
“I am so incredibly proud that our show broke network taboos to tell stories that had been kept secret out of shame and out of fear,” Hargitay said. “SVU discussed and explored these topics long before the movement to end sexual violence had a hashtag.”
Seth Meyers tackled the topic head on—as perhaps only a comedian could from his own network’s stage talking to buyers—when he joked that Kathie Lee Gifford had just exited the network. “She’s the first person to ever leave The Today Show willingly,” he said.
The presentation ended with a performance from NBCUniversal’s Voice judges, Kelly Clarkson, Blake Shelton, John Legend and Adam Levine. That performance had to leave those in the room wondering if they were going to see as much star power from the remaining upfront presentations this week.
“We’re taking the long view and investing in what the future of advertising will look like. Our new ad-supported streaming platform will be available by mid-next year,” Yaccarino said. “An unprecedented investment in data, technology and content including everything you saw today on a scale you can’t possibly imagine.”