NBC Making the Most of Its Super Bowl Coverage
By BRIAN STELTER
THE biggest Super Bowl advertiser is often the network broadcasting the game. On Sunday, for the first time in 11 years, NBC will show the game, the nation’s most-watched event, and executives hope the network’s five minutes of free promotional time — a $30 million value given the estimated $3 million cost of a 30-second spot — will help draw new viewers to its struggling prime-time lineup.
But NBC is banking on the Super Bowl for more than a temporary advertising jolt. In Orlando this Saturday, not far from Tampa, where Super Bowl XLIII is being played on Sunday, the network is inviting several hundred advertisers to a preview of next year’s programming.
The event is an extension of last year’s “infront,” a series of meetings with advertisers that started in April, one month before the industry’s traditional season of advance advertising sales. By previewing pilot episodes up to nine months before the shows make their debuts, the network says it is involving advertisers in the creative process earlier than ever. NBC, always good for a catchy name, is calling the weekend a “SuperFront.”
For the current television season, NBC signed a number of prominent integrated advertising deals. Even when the shows did not succeed, the brands behind them stood out. Ford Motor featured its Mustang in “Knight Rider,” a revival that had a full season despite low ratings. General Motors promoted two new vehicles in “My Own Worst Enemy,” a drama that was canceled last fall. Most recently, General Mills tied its products to the new season of “The Biggest Loser,” the popular reality show.
Last year, “advertisers really appreciated that we started a conversation earlier,” said Ben Silverman, the co-chairman of NBC Entertainment.
So this year, the conversation is starting in February. In Orlando, advertisers will see the two-hour premiere episode of “Kings,” a drama set to begin in March; watch clips from “Southland,” a police drama scheduled to start in April; and view a preview of “Chopping Block,” a cooking show.
They will also hear about pilots for several potential programs, including “Legally Mad,” a drama by David E. Kelley; “Off Duty,” a police sitcom; “Trauma,” a medical drama that Mr. Silverman likens to “ ‘E.R.’ in the field”; and “Mercy,” a drama about nurses.
By introducing the material in the winter, NBC executives say they hope to start linking programs and products earlier in the production process — another step toward what Mr. Silverman calls a “year-round dynamic conversation” with sponsors. “You can start identifying what characters would actually use a product in a show,” he said.
Other product integrations are continuing; the insurance company Liberty Mutual’s message of responsibility will be embedded into “Kings,” and NBC is in talks with possible partners for “The Philanthropist,” a drama that does not yet have a premiere date.
Mr. Silverman said advertisers needed almost nine months to fully integrate their products into shows. The added lead time is necessary because it takes much longer to incorporate brands and products into the plots of scripted series than it does for reality shows.
NBC will follow up and sign deals during another “infront” in April. The network, which is mired in fourth place among the broadcast networks, must assume that any head start with brand integrations will help.
More urgently, the five minutes of commercial time that NBC receives during the Super Bowl is a rare opportunity to introduce legions of viewers — potentially 97.5 million, the number who watched last year — to its programming. With that in mind, “we’ve tried to isolate the core selling message of each show, of each character, down to its core essence,” said Adam Stotsky, the president for marketing for NBC Entertainment.
In the case of the series “Heroes,” that means a commercial reimagining a football game as if it were played by superheroes.
John Miller, the chief marketing officer for the NBC Universal Television Group, said many of the ads would promote the network’s Monday night lineup, which, starting next week, will include new episodes of “Heroes,” “Chuck” and “Medium.” One spot for “Chuck” will be presented in 3-D for those viewers with the appropriate glasses, to tease the 3-D episode that will be shown the next day. Two other ads will be in 3-D: one for the film “Monsters vs. Aliens” and one for SoBe Lifewater.
Other NBC ads will encourage viewers to stay tuned after the Super Bowl for an hourlong episode of “The Office,” the workplace sitcom. And a pair of spots will preview Jay Leno’s forthcoming 10 p.m. hour and Conan O’Brien’s move to “The Tonight Show.”
NBC would not say how much it spent on Super Bowl ads, but Mr. Miller called it a “significant investment” that involved seven original production shoots.
The Super Bowl is “so chock full of special messages,” Mr. Stotsky added, “that we really needed to come to play.”
Of course, commercials for programs do not guarantee high ratings. The Summer Olympics provided an unmatched promotional platform for NBC’s fall shows, but the network’s ratings declined nonetheless.
With pregame programming that begins at noon on Sunday, NBC Universal, which is owned by General Electric, will also promote a long list of the media company’s properties. The Weather Channel, the company’s most recent cable acquisition, will provide game-day weather forecasts. “Top Chef,” the Bravo series, will hold a tailgate party. MSNBC will be included in an NBC News segment. And USA will have a 60-second commercial during the postgame show.
Even Hulu, the online video joint venture between NBC and the News Corporation, will be represented with its first-ever television commercial. But Hulu isn’t included in NBC’s five minutes of time; like the company’s theme parks and movie studios, the Web site paid for the advertising time, Mr. Miller said.