NBC Plots Aggressive Live Programming Strategy

Push Comes as Peacock's Scripted Shows Struggle

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Will Carrie Underwood botch "My Favorite Things" during NBC's live telecast of "Sound of Music" on Thursday? The Peacock Network hopes the suspense will drive viewers to tune in.

Peacock network hopes to draw buzz with three-hour live 'Sound of Music' broadcast.
Peacock network hopes to draw buzz with three-hour live 'Sound of Music' broadcast. Credit: Photo courtesy of NBCU

Social media's ability to push instant tune in as well as the historically DVR-resistant nature of live events are leading NBC to employ an aggressive live-programming strategy over the coming year. "With so much [TV] now being watched on DVRs and through video-on-demand, the need for live telecasts is greater than ever," said Jennifer Salke, president, NBC Entertainment. "We must give a reason for viewers to feel like if they miss a live event, they will miss out on the conversation the next day."

NBC next year will air the first commercial spaceflight in a three-hour live special during "Today." In a partnership between parent NBC Universal and Virgin Galactic, the media giant will document Richard Branson and his children's journey into space. The broadcaster also is beefing up its portfolio of awards shows.

The push comes as NBC's scripted shows have struggled. Its highest-rated programming is predominantly live, with "Sunday Night Football" and "The Voice" helping to make it the most-watched network among the
18-to-49 demo thus far this season.

But there are challenges with live programming. For starters, if a show doesn't attract viewers in its first airing, there's little hope it will receive a boost in the days that follow.

That's what NBC ran into with "Million Second Quiz." Disappointing ratings and app woes plagued the game show, which premiered to 6.5 million viewers, but lost more than half its audience the second week before seeing an uptick with the finale drawing 5.4 million viewers. The show did lift NBC above its normal ratings levels for early September.

And although "Million Second Quiz" sponsors like Subway and Orville Redenbacher might have hoped for more eyeballs, Linda Yaccarino, president-ad sales at NBC Universal, said the measurement of success is broader than Nielsen ratings and stressed brand awareness and affinity. According to Nielsen, Subway's brand recall was 80% higher and message recall 153% greater from the ads run in "Million Second Quiz" than the ads run elsewhere.

Award shows are also becoming a more important part of NBC's arsenal. The network will air The People Magazine Awards and revive the American Comedy Awards next year. It's a sound strategy: The Country Music Association Awards in November averaged 16.6 million viewers, up from 13.7 million last year; the Grammys posted its second-best rating in 20 years; and the Academy Awards drew 40.3 million viewers, up from 39.3 million the year prior.

Advertisers spent nearly $226 million on the CMAs, Oscars, Grammys, Golden Globes and Emmy Awards in 2012, according to Kantar. Commercial time in ABC's 2014 telecast of the Oscars is already sold out, with a
30-second spot fetching around $1.9 million, according to media buyers.

The higher level of engagement associated with live programming and the inability to fast-forward through commercials is appealing to advertisers. "For retail marketers in particular, it's about the immediacy and ability to drive sales today or tomorrow," said Sean Galligan, group director at agency The Media Kitchen.
Walmart has partnered with NBC for "Sound of Music," creating five custom vignettes that parallel "Sound of Music" story line.

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