Upfront 07

Selling an Aggressive Lineup of New Programming

Road to the Upfront: NBC Universal Cable Networks

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Believe it or not, the TV upfront is right around the corner, and Advertising Age is here to help you keep track of the players in both broadcast and cable. This week we look at NBC Universal's cable networks.

The players: USA Network, Sci-Fi Channel and Bravo
Michael Pilot, NBC Universal's new sales chief
Michael Pilot, NBC Universal's new sales chief Credit: NBC

Key executives: NBC has a new sales chief in Michael Pilot, who took over in December. Bravo also has a new dedicated sales team, with Susan Malfa named VP-ad sales and David Epstein VP-planning for NBCU cable entertainment. Also selling the cablers are Marianne Gambelli, exec VP, NBC Universal sales and marketing; Jeff Gaspin, president, NBC Universal cable entertainment, digital content and cross-network strategy; Bonnie Hammer, president, USA Network and Sci-Fi Channel; Lauren Zalaznick, president, Bravo; and Bridget Baker, exec VP, NBC Universal Cable.

The ratings game: USA is still NBC's ratings champ, up nearly 10% among adults 18-49 to 1.2 million for prime time in 2006. In the same demographic, Bravo gained 24% to 301,000, with 10 shows breaking the 1 million-viewer mark. Sci-Fi dropped 11% to 523,000.

What you'll hear: The NBC cable nets are among the most aggressive on the original-programming front, with each network touting at least three new series apiece in addition to strong batches of returning programs. In a recent Simmons "Tipping Point" study, Sci-Fi ranked No. 1 in two of four categories of consumers who influence word-of-mouth. Bravo has coined the term "affluencers" for its upscale audience of engaged 18- to 49-year-olds.

Last year's upfront: USA saw the most significant gains in ad revenue in 2006, up nearly 10% from 2005 to $818 million, while Bravo was up 1% to $223 million, and Sci-Fi slipped 1% to $268 million. USA and Bravo continue to turn deals in branded entertainment thanks to its reality programming, most recently bringing in Elle Decor and Todd Oldham as sponsors for Bravo's "Top Design" and Sonic for USA's "Nashville Star."

The digital play: The NBC nets have a variety of digital offerings to monetize this year. USA has CharacterClique, a video player for its original content. In addition to Bravotv.com, Bravo recently added the gay-friendly OutZoneTV.com with expanded content for hit shows such as "Project Runway" and "Top Chef," while Sci-Fi has a dedicated broadband network dubbed Sci-Fi Drive-In.
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