NBCU Seeks to Start New Conversations With a Reluctant Madison Avenue

Brian Steinberg

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When it comes to soliciting advertising from a Madison Avenue roiled by the coronavirus pandemic, NBCUniversal is putting stock in the famous line from the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams”: If you build it, they will come.

The Comcast-backed company on Monday reiterated its interest in having advertisers give consideration to a series of new initiatives it has unveiled in recent months that call for buying ads across different video venues and reducing the number of commercials that appear within any individual piece of content. At a time when the nation’s economy has flagged and many companies are cutting back on ad spending, NBCU vowed to work with sponsors in ways that align with new habits being demonstrated each day by consumers who increasingly use streaming video and mobile devices to gain access to their favorite TV series.

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“We are changing our business so we can make your business stronger,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and partnerships for NBCUniversal, during a streaming-video presentation held for media buyers, analysts and press.

The presentation served as a kick-off of sorts to a very different TV upfront market, when U.S. media companies try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming program cycle. NBCU executives offered only vague discussions of what a fourth-quarter schedule might look like and suggested the company would offer a more formal presentation of those plans at a later date. Instead, the company tried to cajole advertisers into recognizing new ways of making ad purchases, including an internal NBCU system that makes the process of buying ads across TV and digital easier, as well as purchasing inventory from NBCU or Comcast’s European satellite service Sky.

Pricing trends are in decline. The average cost of commercials purchased as “scatter,” or closer to air, are falling, according to SQAD MediaCosts, a tracker of ad pricing. SQAD found that the average unit cost in April for primetime commercials on ABC, NBC and CBS had all fallen by double-digit percentages. Ads purchased in “scatter” remained above prices set in last year’s upfront, SQAD found, but  trends “may indicate an unprecedented convergence of the upfront and scatter market pricing.”

Yaccarino appeared sanguine about current conditions “Right now, every single business is being asked to do more with less. And like all of you, we know there’s not a lot of visibility into the future,” she said. “So that’s why we are working the short term as best and as fast as we can, to deliver for all of you. And at the same time, we’re staying laser focused on the long term.”

But executives were noticeably short on tangible details about what TV might look like in weeks ahead. Marketers are eager to hear about when TV productions, most shuttered by the pandemic, will start anew. And they are particularly interested in when sports leagues will be able to mount games. “Once we know the details about Sunday nights, you’ll be the first to know,” said Yaccarino, making a reference to “Sunday Night Football,” NBC’s most-watched program, and the highest-priced primetime show for advertisers in a normal TV season.

Instead, NBCU urged clients to consider new ways of presenting pitches. Executives noted the media conglomerate had pulled two minutes of ads out of various news programs and suggested new research proved that 15-second ads  – often a source of “clutter” to viewers weary of having to make their way through handfuls of ads in each commercial break – work better in digital venues than they do on TV.

The company said it intended to hold a “creative summit” in weeks to come to spur conversation about new ad formats and ways to weave commercial messages into programming.

Whether advertisers prove willing to commit to any of the offers will largely hinge on the economy and their ability to see how their business proceeds in months to come.

 “You may be weighing whether to invest in the broadcast upfront. Or the calendar upfront. Or maybe you want to hold until scatter. Or maybe you want to invest in real time on a daily basis through our programmatic and advanced advertising products,” said Mark Marshall, a president of ad sales at NBCU, during the presentation. “Well regardless, however you want to partner, we are ready.”

 

 

 

 

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