TV Upfronts: Bruce Jenner Teaser and Parade of Talent Dominate NBCUniversal Cable Presentation

Bruce Jenner

The upcoming E! series gets a big reception, while the cable portfolio trots out countless stars to dish on data.

NBCUniversal Cable trotted out 168 stars for its annual upfront bazaar, but it was all the talk of "data" that will likely stick with the audience of ad buyers.

The term was used so frequently during the networks' Javitz Center presentation that Bravo's Watch What Happens Live host Andy Cohen created a drinking game; Playing House stars Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair gave a comical tutorial; and ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino joked, "If I drank every time you asked me about our data, I'd be hammered every day by 10 o'clock in the morning." In the true spirit of overload, a rapid succession of those "data"-related acronyms, including OTT (over the top) and DAI (dynamic ad insertion), flashed on screen at one point, and was then followed by another: "WTF?"

Missing from the hour-plus pitchfest, however, was much talk of the portfolio's ratings data. Instead, the afternoon — which NBCU Cable Entertainment chairman Bonnie Hammer stressed would illustrate both the "strength" and "reach" of the group and its 140 series — was heavy on clips, with one for Bruce Jenner's forthcoming E! series garnering the biggest reaction in the convention space. (USA's summer hacker drama Mr. Robot was among the other standouts, with series star Christian Slater playing a key role in the presentation's other taped bits.)

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Here are four takeaways:

It's All About Bruce

E! is so amped about airing Jenner's transition that it had the reality star record a message especially for the event. And why not? If tune-in is anything close to the 17 million who watched Diane Sawyer's two-hour 20/20 sit-down in April, E! will have a hit on its hands. The one-minute emotional voiceover from Jenner, recorded May 7th in Malibu, played over clips of his upcoming Keeping Up With the Kardashians special, leaving the rest to imagination. Jenner talked about feeling "lucky" to be the one to make his transition, and possibly be an inspiration for kids who may be going through the same struggle. "Its for anyone who feels trapped by society's definitions," he says, adding: "Together, we are going to move the world's conversation forward." The network has yet to announce a premiere date with the brief sizzle only repeating the previously announced July timeframe.

Drinking the Data Kool-Aid

Cohen may have been the only one playing the "data" drinking game, but Yaccarino made clear she is a big fan of big data as well. In fact, she used the upfront platform to announce that beginning with the 2015-16 season, NBCU would begin using Comcast set-top box data to power the company's audience targeting platform, which marries television viewership and product purchases. The news garnered applause from the rafters.

Online Video is Crappy

Yaccarino also seconded Fox's Rob Lowe-fronted skewering of the controversial “viewability” standards set by the Interactive Advertising Bureau for online ads. She specifically took Facebook to task, noting: “Even Rob Lowe talked about the danger of crappy online video. When it comes to Rob Lowe, viewability is very important, especially when he's leaving the room.” Stressing quality and reach, Yaccarino added that NBC's channels and digital platforms reach 93 percent of all viewers. “We can move our content seamlessly from linear to laptop to the little screen in your pocket.”

Let Them Eat Cake

E! is totally justified in bragging about The Royals. Although it got off to a softer start, time-shifting has made it the No. 5 scripted show currently on cable (behind only prestige fare Game of ThronesSilicon ValleyBates Motel and Mad Men). That's one reason why NBCU cable used the upfront to plug it yet again on the eve of its freshman finale — and set the sophomore season for an early return in the fourth quarter. The network also used the showcase to tout its 24-7 E! News division, a TV and digital team that (finally) operates as one.

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