NBC sees pay dirt with Super Bowls ads, spin-offs

The network is hoping Super Bowl buzz will drive viewers to the Monday premiere of "Smash," which features (from left) Brian d'Arcy James, Jaime Cepero, Anjelica Huston, Jack Davenport, Katharine McPhee, Megan Hilty, Debra Messing, Christian Borle, and Raza Jaffrey.
The network is hoping Super Bowl buzz will drive viewers to the Monday premiere of "Smash," which features (from left) Brian d'Arcy James, Jaime Cepero, Anjelica Huston, Jack Davenport, Katharine McPhee, Megan Hilty, Debra Messing, Christian Borle, and Raza Jaffrey. (MARK SELIGER / NBC)
Posted: February 05, 2012

NBC Sports, now owned by Comcast Corp., has sold a record $250 million in advertising for Sunday's Super Bowl game and is hoping that audience spillover from the big game will boost two prime-time shows, The Voice and Smash.

The best scenario for NBC would be a nail-biter Super Bowl that draws a big audience, delivering for sponsors who shelled out an average $3.5 million for 30 seconds of airtime. Experts say more than 100 million homes could tune in.

"They will do very well with the Super Bowl. Everything is looking toward a highly rated game," Neal Pilson, independent sports-industry consultant and former head of CBS Sports, said of NBC Sports. But he cautioned, "Everything falls apart if it's a blowout."

Said Al Michaels, NBC's play-by-play announcer, during a conference call early in the week, "All I can ask for is triple overtime." Late in the week, Las Vegas oddsmakers were favoring the Patriots by a field goal.

"I think it will be the biggest audience ever," said David Schwab, vice president of the sports-marketing firm Octagon.

While advertising sales are the most immediate and direct benefit, NBCUniversal Inc. - the entertainment and news conglomerate that includes NBC Sports - has been riding the Super Bowl coattails all week. It is part of a strategy to leverage the entertainment value of one of the nation's biggest TV spectacles for different parts of the NBCU business.

Among those broadcasting live from Indianapolis, where the Super Bowl will be played in the Lucas Oil Stadium, were the Today show, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, E! News, Access Hollywood, Bravo's Top Chef, the Weather Channel's Al Roker, CNBC reporter Darren Rovell, Style correspondents Jeannie Mai and Alexa Prisco, and Golf Channel's Feherty Live.

Sports broadcaster Bob Costas held a town hall meeting Thursday in a local Indianapolis theater that was televised on the NBC Sports Network, the former Comcast-owned Versus 24-hour sports channel.

Comcast acquired NBCUniversal in early 2011. As part of the deal, NBC will run Comcast's regional sports networks and the 24-hour sports channel.

NBC rebranded Versus to the NBC Sports Network in early January partly because of the exposure it would receive during NBC's airing during Super Bowl week, network officials have said.

Mark Lazarus, chairman of the NBC Sports Group, said last week that NBCU had 450 employees in Indianapolis and was broadcasting from three studios or theaters in the city. "This will be a successful day for us," he said of the Super Bowl.

NBC's prime-time programming has been a problem child for years, and the network believes the Super Bowl could energize ratings for The Voice, the reality singing competition with Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton. Its season premiere airs after the game, at 10 p.m.

NBC will air a second new episode of The Voice on Monday. The two-hour episode begins at 8 p.m. The premiere of Smash is scheduled at 10 p.m.

There's a strategy in choosing these slots. The Super Bowl is expected to build an audience for The Voice on Sunday. Some of that audience and excitement will carry over to The Voice on Monday, and then help Smash.

The Voice was a top-rated show in Holland before NBC adapted it to the United States. Paul Telegdy, the president of alternative and late-night programming at NBC Entertainment, discovered the show and adapted it for the United States. It first aired last March. There are 21 new episodes and the show costs about $2 million an hour to produce.

Conceived by Steven Spielberg, Smash is a one-hour musical drama based on two actresses competing to play the role of Marilyn Monroe in a theater workshop.

Spielberg brought the concept to Bob Greenblatt, who was president of entertainment for the cable channel Showtime. Greenblatt liked the idea and then brought it to NBC after Comcast hired him to revive NBC prime time.

The Smash pilot cost $7 million and each episode costs about $3.5 million. NBC has financed 15 episodes.

NBC has said it will promote both shows - The Voice and Smash - during the Super Bowl.

Industry experts say the $250 million in Super Bowl advertising revenue beats Fox's $227 million in ad revenue for last year's Super Bowl.

The $3.5 million cost for 30 seconds indicates the premium value placed on the game by sponsors. In contrast, a 30-second spot on Two and a Half Men, the most-watched situation comedy on U.S. television and broadcast on CBS, costs an average $294,000, according to Nielsen and Horizon Media.

NBC Sports also says that it sold out the advertising inventory for the six-hour pregame show, hosted by Costas. Prices for 30-second spots on the pregame show range from $75,000 in the early afternoon to $2 million close to kickoff.

Costas noted in a conference call last week that he hosted his first Super Bowl pregame in 1986 when it was two hours. But he didn't think he'd run out of things to say in the longer format. "It's a Super Bowl," said Costas. "There's a six-hour pregame. I'll try to do my best."

Contact staff writer Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.

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