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NBC Eases on Down the Road

Expectations Are High for NBC's Third Live Musical

Given the sizeable audience flocking to the small screen for NBC’s “The Sound of Music Live” with Carrie Underwood in 2013 (not to mention the premium advertising rates charged by the network), it is no surprise we have a live production of “The Wiz” tonight (and also on NBC).  “Peter Pan” with Allison Williams was NBC’s choice last year; Fox is jumping on the bandwagon care of “Grease” with Julianne Hough and Vanessa Hudgens on Sunday, January 31; and ABC and CBS have also been in conversations.

Success breeds imitation, of course. So the latest in this growing category is certainly not a surprise. But there is so much more to the concept of the live musical on television than what meets the eye.

Family Viewing
In a landscape at present where viewers no longer necessarily watch television on their actual television sets, “The Wiz” offers a platform for viewers to actually participate as a family unit.  With fragmentation running rampant and networks often unaware on how to monetize this new breed of tune-in, the financial incentives for the network – and the advertisers – can be significant.  And this is one of the many potential advantages “The Wiz” has to offer.

Premium Ad Rates
“The Wiz,” for example, could not command the same asking price for a 30-second spot as “The Sound of Music” because of the notably smaller audience for “Peter Pan” in 2014.  But $330,000 to $350,000 for a 30-second spot for “The Wiz” (versus $345,000 to $400,000 for “Peter Pan”), according to Advertising Age, is still a marked increase from NBC’s recent regularly scheduled Thursday line-up of “Heroes Reborn” ($126,793 per 30-seconds), “The Blacklist” ($193,793) and recently concluded “The Player” ($108,082).  This puts mid-level point for “The Wiz,” on average, a hefty 138 percent above the average for the three NBC dramas.  And only two current regularly scheduled scripted series at present – “Empire” on Fox and “The Big Bang Theory” – are commanding a higher cost per 30-second spot.

Strong Counter-Programming
Unlike “The Sound of Music” and “Peter Pan” before it, “The Wiz” is facing “Thursday Night Football” on CBS (the Green Bay Packers at the Detroit Lions).  So, attracting an arena the size of “The Sound of Music” may be out of the question.  But “The Wiz,” like all musicals, is skewed to a female audience, which offers solid counter-programming to football.  And the two (combined with competing ABC holiday special “CMA Country Christmas) should easily top 40-million viewers for the night.  Where else can you find the reach of that magnitude?

Network Television Still Matters
With many predicting the ultimate demise of network television as we know it, event programming like “The Wiz” is a current example, among others, of why network television still definitely matters.  And there are built in advantages for the sponsors.

Sponsorship Advantages
Case point: The primary advertisers for “The Wiz,” Reddi-wip, is using the format to its advantage by featuring students from the Excel Academy Public Charter School in Hyattsville, Maryland, a public school for girls, taking a crack at a tune from “The Wiz” that appears in a segment that precedes their spot.  The tie-in is flawless, the press has taken notice, and this live musical formal could ultimately become a “Super Bowl” of sorts for the client.  Future sponsors could use this to their advantage.

Network and Broadway Join Forces
“The Wiz,” meanwhile, will be co-produced by Cirque du Soleil’s new stage theatrical division which in itself adds an aura of pure excitement.  And after the live airing on NBC, the musical will make its Broadway revival for the 2016-17 season, also presented by Cirque du Soleil.  So, what may seem like nothing more than another yet live musical on NBC could ultimately be a boon for Broadway ticket sales for “The Wiz.”  Broadway can certainly use a boost and the partnership of NBC and Broadway is yet another unique twist on an industry where the norm no longer seems to exist.

Given the hefty promotion for “The Wiz,” not to mention the stellar ensemble cast (including Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Uzo Aduba, Ne-Yo and newcome Shanice Williams as Dorothy Gale), NBC – and others – will likely keep the live genre alive well into the future.