February 6, 2012

The Sked: PROMO WATCH — NBC’s Super Bowl Sunday

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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>Before we take a look at NBC’s promo activity in the extravaganza that is the Super Bowl, let’s review our forecast of the game itself.  We aim for precision in our predictions at ShowBuzzDaily, and while both Metcalf and Salem correctly predicted the winner of Super Bowl 46 (sorry, no Roman numerals here), Metcalf was the closest in terms of winning margin and points scored.  Margin of Victory — Metcalf prediction (3), Salem prediction (7), Actual (4).  Points scored — Metcalf prediction (51), Salem prediction (67), Actual (38).  Not bad, but we can do better next year.

The Super Bowl presents an incredible opportunity for the network lucky enough to broadcast the game every three years.  No other television event offers 100+ million viewers in an average minute or over 150 million viewers over the course of the game.  And with heightened viewer attention during the commercial breaks (the audience actually watches and focuses on the commercial pods), a network has every incentive to put their best, most persuasive on-air promos to work.

Closing the Sale.  Often the Super Bowl is used as the ultimate scheduling vehicle, to launch a new show.  Clearly, Smash (“from executive producer Steven Spielberg, starring Academy Award winner Angelica Huston, Emmy Award winner Debra Messing, Broadway sensation Megan Hilty, and introducing Katharine McPhee” — see, repetition works!) is the focus of NBC’s midseason.  The idea is simple: re-launch the more familiar The Voice immediately following the game (launching a drama can be difficult with an exhausted and somewhat inebriated audience — recent history shows a reality show goes down much easier) and use a rejuvenated Voice the next night to launch Smash with a much more compatible audience demographically.  

So the goal is to use promotion time in the big game to build the Smash marketing campaign to a crescendo and create a sense of urgency for Monday’s telecast.  “It’s almost here” or “it finally arrives tomorrow” or at least “you are going to want to venture into that empty building known as NBC Monday at 10” are the intended take-aways from the final Smash promotion.  Instead, tonight’s spots for Smash felt like more of the same.  Debra Messing telling us for the millionth time “She’s a star” with an incredulous look on her face, or Angelica Huston snapping “We don’t need your stupid money!” before she pours a drink on the guy.  Less of an urgency-creating crescendo, the finale to the campaign seemed like a repeat of a promo reel playing to the relatively small audience already interested in the making of a Broadway show.  For the rest of America, there was little reason give the show a look.  Smash received more than it’s fair share of time in the game — it just felt like that time wasn’t maximized.  Did it close the sale?  The show’s core audience was sold when the series was announced, but for the bonus audience that will make Smash a hit, the jury is still out. 

Promoting the Next Show.  Some network promotion is just basic communication: stay tuned for The Voice coming up after the game.  With more frequent, shorter-length spots and graphics, NBC effectively communicated its postgame entertainment show.  Parenthetically, the postgame show actually ended early at about 10:19 pm, when a clearly frustrated and unusually flustered Bob Costas announced there would be no more interviews.  (How dare a sulking Bill Belichick deprive America of the greatest of sports traditions — the losing coach interview?  Now THAT is fun to watch, especially when the loser refuses to congratulate the other team or admit they basically sucked that night.)  So The Voice started early and NBC’s excellent Network Operations team was ready with a “coming up in seconds” spot.  That early start time will pay off with somewhat higher ratings for the telecast, a bonus of at least 3-4 extra Adult 18-49 rating points.  Unfortunately, the early start time will mean that anyone who recorded the premiere at the scheduled 10:30 pm start time missed 11 minutes of the show.  

After Smash and The Voice, a few other programs were promoted in the game, in most cases one spot only for each.

Teasing the Next Big Thing.  Another common technique is to use the Super Bowl to start a campaign or tease an upcoming show.  America’s Got Talent, the centerpiece of NBC’s summer and the #1 show in that season, is getting a new judge as Howard Stern replaces Piers Morgan.  In a specially shot promo, Howard is seen hosing lame contestants with, you know, a fire hose from the wings of a stage.  The spot worked on a number of levels: it was fresh, it was funny, it didn’t take the show itself too seriously, and it let Howard be Howard (not trying to re-make him into a fake wholesome persona).  

Teasing Another Not So Big Thing.  The new drama Awake (the next soldier up Pork Chop Hill Thursdays at 10 after The Firm went down) was also promoted.  But the spot looked like a generic promo for a random new drama and definitely not the next big thing.  It’s not that the show looked bad, the spot itself just didn’t seem special enough for the big leagues of the most-watched night of the year. 

Supporting Current Shows.  In contrast, four returning shows (the Thursday 8-10 pm comedy block) were given support in a specially-produced mockumentary spot.  With the serious voice-over of Frontline’s Will Lyman (if it wasn’t him, it was a damn good sound alike), a poor family in what looks to be Eastern Europe is enjoying NBC Comedy on a tiny black and white TV — all except for the unlucky family member outside who has to hand-crank the generator to bring the uproarious comedy to the humble home.  We give the spot an A for effort, but an F for salesmanship.  The comedies themselves didn’t seem any funnier after the promo, and the NBC sales department probably cringed that a new target demo was visualized: downscale, older viewers outside the United States loving NBC.

Wasting Valuable Network AirtimeAnd finally, there’s the “Brotherhood of Man” spot that aired in the pregame show and is available here.   Less of a promo and more of an extended network image spot (full length version is over three minutes), this harkens back to the elaborate song and dance routines from the 1970s and 1980s (“Just Watch Us Now!”) when the broadcast networks had no competition and could get away with its stars singing silly tunes about how great their network’s shows were.  Basically, this 2012 update starts with the 30 Rock cast watching the Super Bowl as Alec Baldwin starts to warble a song (Tina Fey beats the audience to it by asking, “Why are you singing?”) and soon the casts of The Office, SNL, SVU, Community, Parks & Recreation, Today, and even Jay Leno are singing and dancing (some in elaborate and enthusiastic routines, others looking like Seal Team 6 was just off stage making it all happen).  It’s all about entertaining, the brotherhood and sisterhood of entertaining, NBC being the place for all this entertainment.  Judge it for yourself.  


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."