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Will NBC's $20 million Monday night marketing gamble pay?

Date March 08, 2012

LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - Most people approach Mondays with a vague sense of dread about what the work week ahead might hold for them.

For NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt, the stakes are significantly higher, with the network's success largely resting on two shows that cost multimillions of dollars to produce each week.

A knowledgeable NBC insider tells TheWrap that NBC has invested at least $20 million in marketing for its Monday-night lineup of "The Voice" and "Smash" -- a staggering amount of money, and a remarkable investment for a network that's trying to crawl out of its fourth-place position.

For "Smash" alone, the marketing budget is slightly under $10 million -- considerably above the $5.5 million to $8 million that a midseason series typically would command. And that's on top of the millions of dollars the network spends to produce the scripted show that includes elaborate staged theatrical numbers each week.

The more than $20 million in marketing is even more staggering, given that it doesn't include the ads for "Smash" and "The Voice" that ran on this year's Super Bowl.

The question is: Will it be worth it?

So far, in the case of "The Voice," the answer appears to be yes. With the exception of February 27 -- when a rain-delayed Daytona 500 race pushed Fox to an anomalous Monday-night win -- the singing competition has taken the top ratings slot on each Monday night since its February 6 premiere in the Mondays-at-8 timeslot, making NBC the clear victor of the evening.

Of course, "The Voice" was already a hit last season; it remains to be seen whether "Smash" will pay off in the same way.

The Steven Spielberg-produced "Smash" -- which boasts a cast that includes Emmy Award-winning actress Debra Messing, Oscar-winning actress Anjelica Huston and "American Idol" favorite Katharine McPhee -- premiered to respectable numbers on February 6, posting a 3.8 rating/10 share in the adults 18-49 demographic with 11.5 million total viewers.

But since then, the numbers have been largely downhill.

The second episode of the season dropped 26 percent to a 2.8/7, while following week saw a further drop, to a 2.3/6.

The show stabilized the following week, increasing a modest four percent to a 2.4/6 among adults in the 18-49 demographic. And the most recent episode on Monday saw the show jump to a 2.7/7 and 7.9 million total viewers. But that was with CBS' formidable Monday-night roster, which includes such heavy hitters as "How I Met Your Mother" and "Two and a Half Men," in repeats.

(The show's direct competition on ABC, "Castle," was also a repeat.)

To be sure, there are a number of factors that could be preventing "Smash" from becoming the runaway ratings hit that "The Voice" has become. While "The Voice," as a competition series, virtually compels its audience to watch live, "Smash," as a drama, is more amenable to DVR viewing, which doesn't show up on the roster the next day. (And for the older audience that "Smash" is geared toward, a Mondays-at-10 timeslot can be a daunting thing best left for viewing the next day.)

Plus, as Brad Adgate, senior vice president, research at Horizon Media Inc. notes, the series faces direct genre competition in the form of ABC's "Castle" and CBS's "Hawaii 5-0," both popular series.

"I think there are a few reasons," Adgate told TheWrap. "Lower usage, competition from two other dramas at 10 p.m. and a big playback time period could all contribute to lower ratings for 'Smash.'"

There's also the matter of narrow appeal -- how big of an audience is there for a series about the backstage drama of a Broadway production -- let alone the backstage drama of, specifically, a Marilyn Monroe musical?

Adgate suggests that the series might have benefited from the promotional push for the show -- but that doesn't necessarily translate into audience retention.

He said it's not surprising that there was a dropoff since its premiere. "There were a lot of promotions, and that will encourage sampling. ratings fell throughout each quarter-hour; clearly it wasn't for everyone."

Even so, indications are that the show has exceeded NBC's expectations so far, especially after this week's increase.

For Greenblatt, there's a personal investment in making sure that "The Voice" and "Smash" thrive -- "The Voice" is his first bona fide hit since taking over NBC Entertainment a little over a year ago, and "Smash" was an idea that he carried over from his tenure at Showtime.

But with other series receiving big marketing pushes from NBC -- the dramas "Awake" and "The Firm," as well as the upcoming reality series "Fashion Star," have all received large campaigns, complete with expansive outdoor ads -- one has to question whether NBC might be spreading itself too thin, with too many priorities to be juggled.

And that might lead to a situation dire enough to give anyone a case of the Mondays.

(Editing by Chris Michaud)

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