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Upfronts Diary: Did You Know NBC Airs 'This Is Us?'

After what some ad buyers called a confusing upfronts presentation last year, NBC Universal took a more conventional approach when it pitched its upcoming season at Radio City Music Hall on Monday. Reversing its decision last summer to lump shows by genre and audience, it went back to presenting its content network-by-network.

Thankfully, though, it refrained from working its way through the primetime hour-and-night grid that remains a staple of most broadcast presentations.

Based on the big moments from the stage, it’s clear where NBCU is placing most of its eggs.

Will, Grace, Karen and Jack were re-introduced to the audience in a charming number that invoked a heavy dose of nostalgia. But it remains to be seen if “Will & Grace” can retain its magic after a decade off the air and how the gay jokes will play in 2017.

And NBC was all too eager to let the audience know it has the No. 1 new show of the 2016-17 season in “This Is Us.” The sentimental drama got plenty of play, including a heartfelt video about the impact the show has had on fans that brought tears to the eyes of at least a few people in the room (this reporter included).

“NBC is showing off ‘This Is Us’ the way a girl shows off the diamond on her engagement ring,” joked NBC late-night host Seth Meyers, who once again took the stage to take jabs at advertisers and network TV.

The “This Is Us” jokes from Meyers didn’t stop there:

“I’m not just here to talk about ‘This Is Us’ I’m also here to talk about the rest of NBC’s schedule, or as Bob Greenblatt likes to call it, ‘This Is Our Other Shows.'”

“‘This Is Us’ is the first NBC show in 13 years to be the top-rated program of the week, so maybe a better name for it would be ‘This Is Unlike Us.'”

Meyers also threw some President Trump jokes in for good measure.

“The upfronts have been post-truth from the beginning …This week is the definition of fake news.”

“TV execs talk about new shows like Trump talks about healthcare.”

Jennifer Hudson, who joins “The Voice” in the fall as its newest judge, set the tone for the presentation with an incomparable performance of “And I Am Telling You” from Dreamgirls. It was an apt song to kick-off the next two hours, which were filled with all the reasons advertisers should love NBCU.

Predictably, one of those reasons is the reliability and safety of the NBCU’s portfolio of content compared with some big digital players. Marketers were caught up in unflatting press coverage earlier this year when reporters found their ads supporting offensive or unsavory videos on YouTube.

“Promising brand safety is a pretty low bar and some companies can’t even do that,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman-advertising sales and client partnerships NBCU.

She also attacked digital platforms for the way their performance with consumers is tracked, and who does the tracking.

“When it comes to measurement, we don’t grade our own homework,” she added. “What the hell is a view any way? Has a ‘like’ ever walked into your store, purchased your product or drove a car out of the dealership?”

“TV is the most effective advertising medium ever, you know it, we know it and our friends in Silicon Valley know it,” she said.

'This is Us' stars Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore at NBC Universal's upfront.
‘This is Us’ stars Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore at NBC Universal’s upfront. Credit: NBC Universal

Yaccarino also the made the case for moving beyond buying ads against “legacy metrics” like age and gender, which she said are too broad and often lead to a waste of ad dollars.

To that end, NBCU is working with Fox to find a way to measure ads on living-room TVs or mobile devices, in traditional viewing or over the internet. They have hired Moat, the analytics company recently acquired by Oracle, to apply its technology to web viewing and to coordinate tech integrations to track linear viewing.

The presentation lagged in the middle as NBCU ran through the shows on its plethora of cable networks including the new Universal Kids; Oxygen, which is turning into a true crime network; and Syfy, which is refocusing its efforts on genre shows and super-serving its sci-fi fan base.

CNBC got its moment in the spotlight for the first time, and Megyn Kelly received a roar of applause as she took the stage to promote her arrival at NBC News. “I’m here, I’m psyched,” she said.

But it isn’t an NBCU upfront without a Kardashian or two. And it’s amazing how even after a decade they can still make a room of media buyers and marketers giddy. Everyone reached for their phones to snap a picture of Kim Kardashian West and Khloe Kardashian, who introduced little sis Kylie Jenner’s new E! reality series, “Life with Kylie.”

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