Comcast Corp.’s NBC, the last-place network for seven straight years, will use this weekend’s Super Bowl broadcast to promote a prime-time lineup being remade by entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt.
The NFL championship match between the New York Giants and New England Patriots will draw as many as 115 million viewers on Feb. 5 -- potentially the largest U.S. television audience in history, according to Brad Adgate, head of research at New York-based Horizon Media Inc.
The game, and the Summer Olympics in July, give NBC the chance to promote shows like the returning talent competition “The Voice” and “Smash,” a new musical drama about actresses vying to play Marilyn Monroe on Broadway, to huge audiences. The network hasn’t had both marquee sporting events since 1996, when NBC was No. 1 with its Must-See TV lineup of “Seinfeld” and “Friends.”
“Expect to see NBC shows pushed all the way through the game,” John Miller, chief marketing officer of NBC Universal television, said in a phone interview.
Viewers will see 20 minutes of NBC promos before, during and after the Super Bowl, according to Chris McCloskey, a spokesman for the sports division. A 30-second ad during the game costs an average of $3.5 million, and up to $4 million.
Networks that carry the Super Bowl typically reserve air time to promote their shows. Last year, Fox used $76 million of ad time to promote shows such as “Glee,” researcher Kantar Media estimated. CBS used $57 million of ad time in 2010.
Comcast rose 1.8 percent to $27.06 at 9:42 a.m. New York time. Shares are up 12 percent this year before today.
‘What You’ve Got’
The stakes are higher with NBC, which groped through management changes and programming fumbles under General Electric Co., like shifting Jay Leno to prime time. NBC Universal was sold to Philadelphia-based Comcast, the largest U.S. cable system, in January 2011.
“The worse ratings shape you’re in, the greater the importance of the major event,” said Chris Geraci, president of national broadcast at OMD, a unit of ad agency Omnicom Group Inc. unit with clients including PepsiCo Inc. “Whether or not you’re making money on it, you’re at least capturing an audience that you’re normally failing to get your hands on. That’s why it’s so important to let them know what you’ve got.”
Greenblatt, who started one year ago, has shuffled production management and added shows including “Up All Night,” “Whitney” and the canceled “The Playboy Club.”
The schedule has been a disappointment, with the exception of Sunday night football, the most-watched program since the season began in September. Total viewers are down 6.7 percent through Jan. 29, according to data from Nielsen, which tracks audiences. Among 18-to-49-year-olds, the group advertisers target, NBC is off 9.8 percent. On an average night leader CBS has 12.1 million viewers while has NBC 7.33 million.
The network needs four or five strong, long-running programs to significantly improve ratings, Greenblatt told TV critics last month.
NBC Universal paid $4.38 billion in June to keep U.S. Olympics rights until 2020 and re-upped with the NFL until 2022 for undisclosed terms.
The network will generate $250 million to $300 million in ad revenue for this year’s Super Bowl, Miller said -- a record according to Seth Winter, senior vice president of sales and marketing at NBC Sports.
“Smash,” starring Debra Messing and former “American Idol” contestant Katharine McPhee, centers on a Broadway musical about the life of Monroe. It makes its debut on Feb. 6. Viewers will also see promos for NBC’s new shows, which include “The Firm,” loosely based on the John Grisham novel, and “Are You There, Chelsea?” featuring Chelsea Handler.
“The Voice,” a singing competition with judges Cee Lo Green, Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine, will air immediately after the Super Bowl to kick off its second season.
The network will promote the 2012-2013 season during the Olympics, which take place after NBC previews its lineup at the annual “upfront” presentations to advertisers.
“Beautiful People,” “The Munsters,” “Isabel,” “Save Me” and a program with comedian Sarah Silverman are possible new additions for fall, Greenblatt said last month.
Investors may be sensitive to spending on new shows, said Jason Armstrong, an analyst with Goldman Sachs & Co. in New York. Comcast fell 2.4 percent in May when the company said it would invest an added $300 million on NBC programming.
The most-watched U.S. TV event ever was last year’s Super Bowl duel won by the Green Bay Packers 31-25 over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The game drew an audience of 111 million.
More viewers will stick around for “The Voice” and “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” if the score is close, Miller said.
“Every bit of time is valuable for us,” Miller said.