NBCU: Lessons learned from Live 8

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Second of three parts.



NEW YORK — This weekend's Live Earth extravaganza aims to bring awareness of global warming as well as music to the world, and NBC Universal wants to make sure its wall-to-wall television coverage doesn't strike a sour note.

NBC Uni has thrown the full weight of its TV portfolio to carry Live Earth, with a three-hour primetime special Saturday night on NBC plus 18 hours of live coverage on Bravo, seven hours on CNBC and lots of coverage on Sundance Channel, Universal HD, Telemundo and Mun2. Microsoft's MSN has exclusive online global rights.

In July 2005, Live Earth's predecessor, Live 8, drew so many complaints about commercial interruptions that MTV and VH1 acknowledged its mistakes and ran five hours each of commercial-free coverage a week afterward. This time, NBC Uni is working with concert promoter Kevin Wall and advertisers to cut commercial time by about 50% per hour. There will be more than 50 minutes of program an hour (compared with about 42 minutes normally).

"We were very sensitive to the commercial load on the feeds," said Dan Harrison, senior vp emerging networks at NBC Cable. "It will be significantly lighter than what a normal hour of network television would be."

The main sponsors on NBC are American Express, Apple and General Motors.

Harrison said that NBC Uni takes seriously the lessons of Live 8.

"We do believe in the importance of the message and we do believe in working with the producers to find the most compelling way to share this with our viewers," Harrison said. "We think we've worked hard to learn from Live 8."

After the Who's F-bomb on ABC that drew the FCC's ire during Live 8, there will be a multisecond delay on the live events.

"There will be an appropriate delay so there is no issue with standards," Harrison said. "In today's broadcasting environment, it's necessary to do but it's nothing that we think is excessive."

NBC Uni became involved in the project about five months ago, when Wall met with NBC Uni CEO Jeff Zucker about putting together a worldwide concert inspired by Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth." NBC Uni joined on as the U.S. broadcast and cable partner, using all of the company's assets at its disposal.

The company is no stranger to using its multiple cable and broadcast platforms to great effect.

Every two years, all the NBC Uni networks run hours and hours of live and taped Olympics coverage during the two-week-plus span of the Games. More recently, NBC ran an "Evan Almighty" promo across all its networks at the same time and did a similar thing to boost interest in the U.S. Open with Tiger Woods' opening tee shot in Oakmont, Pa.

NBC will have three hours of primetime coverage, live and taped, from Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Saturday night. It will be hosted by Ann Curry and Carson Daly and feature some of the day's highlights from around the world as well as live performances by the Police and others. Curry already has begun her co-host duties, interviewing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg about his plans for a greener Big Apple.

She said that the concert arrives at a particularly momentous time.

"This has been the year where I think the world has come to a kind of reckoning that there may be some validity to all of this discussion about climate change," Curry said. "It's come around to the idea that maybe we should take this seriously."

But there's also the concert to cover, and she's looking forward to seeing the Police and John Mayer and interviewing Sting and his wife, Trudi Styler. "I'm going to relish that," she said.

Meanwhile, Bravo will carry 18 hours of the U.S. concert and highlights from the others live from a feed specially created by Wall and his producers for the American market. Bravo's coverage runs from 8 a.m. EDT Saturday to 2 a.m. EDT Sunday. Sundance Channel and Universal HD plan 22 hours of live coverage from 4 a.m. EDT — when Live Earth kicks off in Sydney — through 2 a.m. EDT Sunday. CNBC has seven hours beginning 7 p.m. Saturday. MSNBC will have live reports from New York and London throughout the day.

"There will be more concerts being held and being shot than there are hours in 7/7/07, but you're going to get material from every single venue," Harrison said.

NBC isn't sure what the ratings will be, given Live Earth happens near the end of the Independence Day holiday weekend.

"It's a Saturday night in the summer on a holiday weekend. We could be very pleasantly surprised or it might perform as television is going to perform on that weekend," Harrison said. "We're certainly hoping for a big audience."
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