Is NBC's New Lineup Worth $2 Billion?

Upfronts are a month away. Does NBC have what it takes to duplicate last year's numbers?

Apr 15, 2014 at 9:20AM

At last year's annual upfronts market, Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) NBC garnered $2.1 billion in commitments from advertisers, improving upon 2012's sales and cracking the $2 billion barrier for the first time in 8 years . This year the network will be looking to build on that momentum when it presents its new lineup to advertisers on May 12 in New York.


Current winners
Sunday Night Football will continue to be a chief moneymaker for NBC, as its NFL contract will run through 2022 . But no network can survive on sports alone -- in fact, CBS's drama NCIS outperformed Sunday Night Football as the highest-rated program in the 2012-13 season .

While it might not edge out NCIS, NBC's original programming is pulling in higher ratings than last season. New hit The Blacklist has the network continually winning the Monday night 10 p.m. slot with as many as 11.4 million viewers, and singing competition The Voice  is routinely pulling in over 10 million viewers a night. These shows have brought NBC into second place among the "Big Four" networks this season, with an average overall viewership of 9.8 million (only CBS has more at 10.8 million). This is a significant improvement from last year's season average of 7.1 million viewers .

Advertisers will certainly take note of these improved numbers, but the network will also need to showcase solid new programming at upfronts.

The new class
There is certainly room for improvement in comedy. Fan favorite Parks and Recreation is returning, but it's hard to overlook that NBC launched and then pulled three comedies in 2013-14: Welcome to The Family,  The Michael J. Fox Show, and Sean Saves the World .

What's taking their place? The network gave a six-episode order to Mr. Robinson, a comedy about a musician turned middle school music teacher played by The Office's Craig Robinson. Additionally, NBC placed a series order on Tooken, in which Robinson's former co-star Ellie Kemper plays a young woman who escapes from a cult and begins life anew in New York City. Tina Fey, who created and starred in NBC's 30Rock, is the executive producer . The network also ordered 12 episodes of a comedy titled Working the Engels, which centers on a family who takes over their deceased father's law firm, even though they're underqualified .

Still, there's room for more orders from NBC's comedy slate and a variety of projects are getting early buzz . The standard young-persons comedy Marry Me follows an engaged couple that realizes marriage may not be a walk in the park. Conversely, the network has a dark comedy concerning the relationships of a dysfunctional family in the restaurant business, titled Feed Me. Also, if the network decides to bet on a familiar face, we could see an order for the Rob Lowe vehicle The Pro, which follows a former tennis champ reunited with his doubles partner after a colossal falling out .

On the drama side, NBC granted a 10-episode order to a Wizard of Oz remake titled Emerald City that will air mid-season . That leaves room in the fall lineup for some of the network's drama pilots. NBC may count on the growing popularity of graphic novels and give an order to Constantine, a dark project following the crisis of an occult leader based on DC Comics' Hellblazer series .

NBC will also likely get into the political/military genre, as it has three pilots in that arena: Coercion follows a patriotic CIA agent whose parents are part of a Russian sleeper cell; Odyssey is a conspiracy thriller centered on a female soldier, political activist, and an attorney; and the Katherine Heigl starrer State of Affairs tracks a CIA officer assigned to work directly with the president on critical threats .

Bottom line
Heading into upfronts, it appears NBC has equipped itself with a blend of familiar concepts and faces. Anchored by Sunday Night Football, questions abound with a slew of untested comedies and dramas. Ultimately, we will have to wait and see if familiarity is enough to rake in another $2 billion.

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Aimee Duffy has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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