Upfront 07

NBC Ad Chief Eyes 'Crisper Thinking' at Net

Mike Pilot Says New Technology (and a Few More Hit Shows) Will Boost Peacock

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Mike Pilot joined NBC Universal as president-ad sales in January from parent General Electric Co. Mr. Pilot talked to Claire Atkinson about his views on commercial ratings, the health of the upfront market and what NBC is going to discuss in its upfront presentation.

MediaWorks: You were president-CEO of General Electric Consumer Finance before joining NBC Universal. What surprised you most on joining the TV business?
Mike Pilot, president-ad sales at NBC
Mike Pilot, president-ad sales at NBC Credit: Virginia Sherwood

Mike Pilot: I've been very surprised with the pace of change we are faced with, and technology is evolving at an incredible rate. I look at some of the process that our company endures -- the 800 faxes we receive in our traffic department -- and I'm shocked we have processes like that. We definitely could benefit from crisper thinking, new technology and working with our partners to do some streamlining.

I've also been surprised how similar this industry is [to my last one]. It's going through a great change, and a premium is being placed on our whole value chain.

MediaWorks: What things might you be able to change?

Mr. Pilot: Something that we will try to do is focus on cycle times for executing orders and prioritizing things that are done by people that can be done by software to free up the human capital to do other things.

MediaWorks: When NBC is in fourth place and recording historical lows in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic, and advertisers are saying, "We won't pay more for less," how do you make the sell?

Mr. Pilot: We have a great portfolio of assets. You have to believe in our heritage and that programming success is cyclical and we'll get back to a great place. We've made great strides this year in that regard. What I'm hearing is that we are back on brand as NBC Universal. Thursday night is working for us, and we've had success with "Heroes." We need a couple more of those.

MediaWorks: What are your thoughts on the debate over commercial ratings?

Mr. Pilot: Commercial ratings are a very good thing for the industry. It speaks to what advertisers are asking for -- more accountability. To the extent that we are all working together to maximize eyeballs, that's a good thing.

What that topic has brought into focus is the business about getting credit for time-shifted viewing, and that got away from us [last year].

MediaWorks: How many days' viewing should be measured?

Mr. Pilot: A researcher would tell you the most accurate way to reflect audiences is live-plus-seven days. Is business going to be transacted on that? No, but if we're not using the most accurate way, then what are we using? That's a conversation we're having every day. We're going to need to be in a position to do it the way customers want to do it.

MediaWorks: What's the value of the upfront market? As a newcomer to the whole process, are you a believer in it?

Mr. Pilot: If you're a client who needs to lock up prime-time inventory or you're in a position to make a big volume commitment for a price discount or you have a special execution in mind that takes a long lead time and you want to lock it up early, then the process works for you.

I also think there's a class of clients where it doesn't work so well, where the process seems to force people to buy things that are not in sync with the planning or budget cycle. It is incumbent on us as sellers to sell the way people want to buy.

MediaWorks: What does the marketplace look like this year?

Mr. Pilot: Scatter has been healthy, and a case could be made for a bunch of different scenarios. We've got a lot of [Wall Street] analysts who cover the space who haven't published on this. It is a good year to be new -- so much is changing, you could say it will be slightly up or slightly down or flat with real credibility.

MediaWorks: And can you match last year's upfront number that included NFL sales? Tell us what's new from NBC for this year's upfront.

Mr. Pilot: No comment [on duplicating 2006's sales]. We'll do more this year in defining that total inventory of our assets. That goes beyond our properties and gets into what product placements we'll do. We're working very hard to define that inventory and bring it to market. ... What you are going to see is a real focus on this broad portfolio of assets.

MediaWorks: You talked about the broad array of NBC Universal assets. Will NBC's prime-time entertainment schedule be packaged with other assets? Can I just buy "Heroes" if I want to?

Mr. Pilot: Each of our properties stands on its own. We do sell them individually and we do package. The customers dictate to what degree.

MediaWorks: What about NBC Universal's online video joint venture with News Corp.?

Mr. Pilot: Yes, that will be a part of our upfront discussions with clients. It's a breakthrough having access to high-quality video content. The content partners have the ability to buy back the avails, and we will be doing that and putting that content in upfront packages. It is just another way to extend our reach.
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