Morning TV's Battle of the Bands: 'Today' & 'Good Morning America' Concert Wars Escalate

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Illustration by Ed Fotheringham

morning tv battle of the bands

Jimmy Fallon's arrival on "The Tonight Show" is having an unlikely effect on the battle to book big music stars on morning TV's summer concert series. Sources tell Billboard that NBC's "Today" is using Fallon's initial ratings success as leverage in an especially aggressive campaign to win top acts from ABC's "Good Morning America." Both shows are booking 15 concerts that often air on the same days from late May through the end of August, while keeping the lineups close to the vest. Increasingly, the jockeying has become sharp-elbowed, with "Today"'s Toyota Summer Concert Series aided by the sheer number of outlets NBC can offer artists' representatives in package deals.

MARIAH CAREY'Good Morning America'
Ratings: 5.8 million viewers
Booker: Monica Escobedo
Who's Played: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Rihanna, Mariah Carey, Pitbull, Miley Cyrus, Kenny Chesney, Imagine Dragons, Green Day, John Legend, Alicia Keys
Ratings: 5.5 million viewers
Booker: Julie Gurovitsch
Who's Played: One Direction, Adele, Justin Bieber, Luke Bryan, fun., Maroon 5, John Mayer, Ed Sheeran, Chris Brown, Coldplay, Michael Bublé

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Though "Today" lags behind "GMA" in the ratings, with 5.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen, it's broadcast from NBC's showcase, 30 Rockefeller Plaza headquarters, also home to "The Tonight Show," "Late Night With Seth Meyers" and the plum of all music bookings, "Saturday Night Live."

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That means an act can conceivably appear on multiple programs without ever leaving Rockefeller Center - giving Today logistical leverage in negotiations with acts. Further, NBC recently put all its properties under one booker, Matt Zimmerman, who is said to be working with "Today" booker Julie Gurovitsch to give her show a boost. Zimmerman is also said to have become more willing to allow acts to play away from Rockefeller Plaza, something the network refused to do in the past.

"GMA," which mostly broadcasts its summer concerts from Central Park's Rumsey Playfield, has for the past two years had the advantage of eyeballs, averaging 5.8 million viewers. But while ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" features a popular outdoor stage and good ratings in the 18-49 demo, it tapes in Los Angeles, requiring acts to travel to do both ABC shows. And with only one hour of late-night programming, "GMA" booker Monica Escobedo has a smaller hand to play in her negotiations.

While a spot on "Fallon" or "Kimmel" can be important for an up-and-coming act looking for impressions and exposure, the morning programs are more likely to reach female viewers who typically make decisions about household purchases, talent managers say. "It's the rare act that connects at night," says one top manager. "You can count the album sales in hundreds."

For either network, touring acts like Beyoncé would be big "gets" this summer, but there are limits to the rivalry. "Threatening artists in this town is never a very good business model," says an NBC source, "which is why we don't do it."