TV Upfront

NBC Chief Wants Peacock to Be Judged By 18-to-49 Viewership

CEO Steve Burke Gives Preview of Upfront Strategy

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'The Voice' is helping NBC attract young viewers.
'The Voice' is helping NBC attract young viewers. Credit: NBC

NBC wants to be judged on its strength in the 18-to-49 viewers and not by a measure so blunt as its popularity among all viewers, company executives said today in a preview of the network's strategy for the important upfront negotiations coming up.

That was the message Steve Burke, CEO of NBC Universal, made at a press lunch ahead of the upfronts, when TV networks look to sell much of their ad time in the new season.

"We're in the 18-to-49 business," NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke said at a press lunch ahead of the upfronts, when networks look to sell much of their ad time in the new TV season. Advertisers do not buy inventory with total viewer guarantees, he added.

"Talking about total viewers and households is like talking about yardage in football," he said. If someone pitched Mr. Burke on a series that would attracted a big total audience but wouldn't resonate with the younger target demographic, he said, he'd let it go.

This is the time of year, of course, when all TV networks strive to give advertisers the narrative that best plays to their strengths. Smaller networks argue that they deliver efficient access to tightly-defined groups of viewers, allowing advertisers to avoid all the waste that comes with buying big, broad audiences. And CBS, whose viewers skew older, tries to interest marketers in the products that audiences buy instead of those audiences' ages.

NBC is doing well among the younger demographic that advertisers typically prefer, so it will play that up as much as possible. Mr. Burke said he expects NBC to end the season No. 1 in the 18-to-49 demographic, up from No. 2 last year behind CBS.

Ranked by total viewers, NBC would come in second for the season through March 24. CBS is in the lead by that measure.

While Mr. Burke and research chief Alan Wurtzel did acknowledge that there's value to the 55-to-64 demographic, which isn't usually sought by advertisers, NBC said it will keep focusing on the demo that's used to keep score.

Linda Yaccarino, head of ad sales, said as much as 60% of NBC's inventory is sold against the 18-to-49 demo.

Even in mornings and late-night, which advertisers have traditionally been viewed as times to reach 25-to-54-year-olds, Mr. Burke and Ms. Yaccarino said buyers have increasingly focused on the younger demo.

The "Today" show, which is regularly beaten out by ABC's "Good Morning America" in total viewers, pulls 1.7 million viewers in the 18-to-49 demo, making it No. 1 among younger viewers.

Mr. Burke said this year's focus from likely all the broadcasters will be on moving to a 52-week season from a 35-week season. Other broadcast chiefs, notably Fox's Kevin Reilly earlier this year, have declared an end to the traditional pilot season and announced plans to develop programming year-round.

NBC executives said the network will air three reality series this summer, including "America's Got Talent" and "American Ninja Warrior," and six scripted shows, including "Taxi Brooklyn" and "The Night Shift."

Mr. Burke and Mr. Wurtzel also stressed the importance of cross-platform measurement, arguing that networks are losing as much as 12% of the revenue they ought to get if everyone who watched delayed programming was measured properly. While there are ways to measure mobile, tablet and online viewing, the networks' growing desire is for all of these figures to be included in Nielsen ratings, the ultimate currency used to set advertiser guarantees.

New "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon has success online, but the network hasn't been able to cash in on those views as much as it should, Mr. Burke said.

When asked if there's any possibility of Jay Leno moving to CBS now that David Letterman is set to retire, Mr. Burke said NBC is currently in talks with Mr. Leno about episodic specials.

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