NBCU Cable Upfront: More Wrestling, Scripted Forays and Three Other Takeaways

Bonnie Hammer's portfolio closes out the upfront week, with Bravo and E! plugging moves away from reality, Kim Kardashian yucking it up with Linda Yaccarino and much talk of the cross-network "Symphony."
"Keeping Up With the Kardashians"

For the first time, NBCUniversal Cable presented its entire catalog -- that's Bravo, E!, USA, Syfy, Esquire, Sprout and Oxygen --  during one upfront event. And unity was the big talking point.

Chairman Bonnie Hammer opened the show, walking out on stage to MC Hammer's "You Can't Touch This" -- though the audio ended just short of a "Stop. Hammer time!" She was on hand not just to focus on the future, with all programming showcased across the networks from upcoming series, but to stress the company's push to become a one-stop shopping destination for media buyers with its Symphony initiative.

There were also a whopping 120 members of the portfolio's on-air talent, many of whom graced the stage during the presentation. (Joan Rivers and Joel McHale got the biggest laughs.)

The late-afternoon presentation at the Javits Center also offered new glimpses at first-time scripted offerings from Bravo and E!, and brought big news for NBCU's partnership with World Wrestling Entertainment.

Here are the key takeaways:

1. One-Stop Shopping with Cocktails

NBCUniversal ad sales president Linda Yaccarino appealed to media buyers' need to cobble together myriad deals on every conceivable platform and device by stressing the cable portfolios' ability to "deliver unprecedented levels of engagement and effectiveness" at "unparalleled scale and targetability." The company is rolling out its Symphony initiative -- a cross-network and multiplatform marketing approach used to promote Universal Pictures Despicable Me and SyFy's Defiance -- to the general market.

Yaccarino, who also addressed media buyers at NBC's presentation in the same venue on Monday, noted that Symphony is not just a cross-network buy, but one that comes with the accountability of advanced measurement technology with "more innovation and more targeting than anyone else in the business." Symphony was further driven home via a video montage of NBCU cable celebrities playing air violin, flute and the French horn to the tune of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," and a rap from Royal Pains star Mark Feuerstein, whose final line entailed: "Synergy has arrived and we call it Symphony."

2. The Kardashians are Still a Keystone

E!'s reality franchise may be looking a little long in the tooth, but Kim Kardashian remains an integral part of their brand. Or at least that was the message as the reality star became the first in the slew of NBCU talent to grace the stage, beckoned when Yaccarino referred to herself as the Kim Kardashian of NBCUniversal. (Sorry, Linda, that job's taken.) Kardashian, who struggled a bit with the teleprompter, introduced the E! segment of the presentation and figured prominently in the ensuing onslaught of promotional videos.

3. We're the Most Interactive Networks

The lively presentation was infused with multiplatform stats, many of them as nebulous as those rolled out at previous presentations. And Bravo executive-turned-star Andy Cohen was tapped to introduce a clip that rapidly scrolled through the various networks' initiatives, including TV Everywhere, participation TV, transmedia (epitomized by the Suits Recruits game), social commercials and social media integrations, including the E! News Instagram wall that tracks celebrities' Instagram feeds. Cohen's growing Watch What Happens Live incorporates a drinking game into its nightly telecasts, prompting a handful of references to boozing during his time onstage. 

4. WWE Is Here to Stay

One newsy bit to come out of the presentation came from the WWE, a long-time partner whose future with the network group was uncertain. From stage, it was announced that NBCU had reupped its deal with the wrestling giant to keep the entertainment-sports hybrid going on E! (Total Divas), USA (Raw) and Syfy (SmackDown) for "years to come." (The company's previous deal with WWE was set to expire in September.) No terms were disclosed, but it's expected to be a long-term pact. 

5. Come for Reality, Stay for Scripted

A few long-gestating projects finally made their way outside of company walls during the presentation. E! scripted debut The Royals (a sudsy drama starring Elizabeth Hurley) and Bravo's first scripted projects Girlfriends Guide to Divorce and Odd Mom Out all screened trailers for the first time. Each of the projects garnered applause from the crowd -- but nearing 6 p.m. at the final upfront, this was one slaphappy group. In truth, a Real Housewives of Pittsburgh could have gotten a standing ovation by the end of the 90-minute program.