NBC Universal said Tuesday that it was abandoning its spring ritual of unveiling the network's fall schedule in an expensive, star-studded presentation at Radio City Music Hall in favor of smaller meetings with advertisers in three cities, including Los Angeles.
"We are taking what has been a one-way conversation and turning it into a two-way dialogue with advertisers," said Marc Graboff, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment. The company also plans a trade show-like "expo" in New York on May 12, the day that had been reserved for NBC's presentation. Last month, NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker announced the company would probably scrap its annual presentation, which he dismissed as little more than a "dog-and-pony show."
However, the other broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, Fox and CW, did not follow suit.
Instead, they announced this month that they would continue their annual tradition of staging presentations in such venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Madison Square Garden to kick off the lucrative "upfront" sales season, the period in May and June when the networks sell the bulk of their multibillion-dollar commercial time for the following TV season.
Executives at those networks believe the presentations, although expensive, help generate interest in their programs and drive sales. The annual events had been marked by advanced peeks at the new fall shows, glitzy parties and opportunities for advertisers to get their photos snapped with stars.
The differences in strategy among the broadcast networks demonstrate how they are at odds over how to redefine their businesses in an era of declining audiences and increased competition from the Internet, cable television and video games. NBC's new stripped-down approach is more like that of a cable TV network.
Instead of focusing solely on NBC's prime-time shows, the company plans to also highlight programs from its other outlets, including cable channel USA Network and Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo. In some ways, the move is an acknowledgment that NBC is no longer the powerhouse that it was just a few years ago, when it could sell nearly $3 billion in prime-time ad spots in a matter of days.
NBC, however, said it would not entirely part with tradition. It still plans to host a party May 12 so advertisers can mingle with the network's stars.