NBCUniversal Wraps Protracted Upfront Ad Sales Process, Matching 2022’s Record Level; Sports, Peacock And Tentpole Events Help Offset Linear Viewing Decline

NBCUniversal has wrapped up one of the most unusual upfront ad seasons in history, managing to secure cash commitments roughly in line with last year’s record haul.

The upfront has been a complex undertaking for all major media players, dragging on through June and most of July. The WGA strike, which began May 1 and is continuing, threw a wrench into network presentations to ad buyers and also upended scheduling plans and production. The SAG-AFTRA walkout this month has exacerbated the labor woes, creating a cloud of uncertainty over the annual September launch of fall programming. (NBC on Wednesday announced a fall schedule featuring a notable number of scripted shows, unlike rivals relying heavily on unscripted fare in the strike-altered operating environment.)

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NBCU’s annual upfront extravaganza at Radio City Music Hall also had extra levels of intrigue this year after longtime sales chief Linda Yaccarino decamped on the eve of the presentation as she prepared to jump to Twitter as CEO.

Across the board in the upfront, sports, streaming service Peacock, Telemundo, special events and various technology-driven innovations helped offset ongoing linear viewing declines and the impact of cord-cutting.

NBCU did not offer any official comment on the upfront process. Its parent company, Comcast, will report its second-quarter financial results on July 27 and execs will likely weigh in on the state of the sales effort. Dollar figures are generally held close to the corporate vest, but in recent years upfront commitments have been in the range of $3 billion and total ad sales north of $10 billion.

Expectations have been mounting for traditional media companies to report a dip in upfront revenue due to broader softness in the ad business, tough comparisons with last year and ongoing pressure from tech rivals like Netflix and Amazon. The former introduced advertising for the first time last November and the latter’s Prime Video debuted exclusive carriage of an established advertiser magnet, the NFL’s Thursday Night Football. Earlier Thursday, TelevisaUnivision CEO Wade Davis, formerly a longtime senior exec at Viacom, said the Hispanic media company was seeing upbeat signs in its upfront ad effort. He called it ““an incredible accomplishment in a broader market expected to be down.”

Speaking of Spanish-language programming, though, Telemundo posted its fourth straight year of upfront growth, coming in just shy of a double-digit increase over 2022, NBCU said. Volume was the highest it has been since 2019-20 as Hispanic viewers continue to show strength compared with the broader market.

After each event got some of the spotlight at the Radio City upfront event in May, NBCU is said to be seeing results from BravoCon, the 2024 Paris Olympics and the 50th anniversary of Saturday Night Live. BravoCon will be held in Las Vegas in November, the Paris Games and the SNL commemoration will unfold during the seven months of shows planned for the 2024-25 season.

Paris Olympic sales are already at nearly double the pace of the pandemic-delayed 2020 Games, with about $100 million in ad commitments from brands who did not take part in Tokyo.

Sports has also boosted Peacock, which drew a 30% uptick in upfront commitments compared with 2022. The 3-year-old streaming service had 22 million subscribers as of last March. The streaming initiative began with “free as a bird” marketing and an emphasis on free, ad-supported viewing but has since shifted toward paid subscriptions. Along with a raft of originals, Peacock has onboarded WWE Network, Reelz and Hallmark programming and also ramped up live sports.

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