Comcast Splits Media Business Between WPP, Publicis

With NBC Acquisition, Conflicts Made It Difficult to Consolidate at One Shop

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Following a complex review, the newly merged Comcast-NBC divided its $1.4 billion media duties between Publicis and WPP shops.

The Publicis Groupe team, including MediaVest and Starcom, won the Comcast cable business and added theme parks to its portfolio. MediaVest had previously handled the bulk of Comcast's cable spending. NBC Universal will go to WPP's Group M, which will also hold onto its existing business in international markets. In the U.S., NBC Universal will live within Maxus, Group M's smallest, conflict-free shop, likely forcing the agency to staff up.

Dividing the business is a departure from the company's original desire to consolidate the account within one unit, a near impossible task as the merged entity created a number of conflicts for agencies across categories such as studios, cable networks, owned-and-operated stations and theme parks.

Movie studios helped complicate the process within WPP's Group M: The media network handles the Universal business abroad, but in the U.S. MediaCom has competitor Warner Bros.; MEC has Paramount; and Mindshare has Summit.

The finalists, comprising a mix of agencies that got creative in their attempts to weed out conflicts, included Publicis, Group M, and an Omnicom Group- Horizon Media hybrid dubbed OH. An Omnicom team -- OMD was the incumbent on Universal -- and independent media-buying agency Horizon, the incumbent for NBC, would have been the backbone of OH. OH's billings would have lived within Horizon and been divided through a profit-share with the Omnicom team. (OMD's relationship with CBS would have created a direct conflict with NBC's cable and broadcast brands.)

At the start of the process, knowledgeable executives told Ad Age that incumbents across all brands would be invited to participate in the review. From the original roster: OMD has supported Universal Studios in the U.S. since 1999; MediaVest has handled the bulk of Comcast's spending since 2006; and Horizon and Publicis' Fallon have shared media duties for NBC Universal TV properties in the U.S. since 2005.

Agencies' investment in the review went beyond eliminating conflicts. According to knowledgeable executives, finalists had to develop complete media plans for multiple brands and present them to a majority of the company's 40 international and U.S. business units. The original RFP was about 60 pages long.

The decision comes just months after Comcast purchased a majority stake in NBC Universal. One of the company's challenges will be to get decent tune-in for NBC's fall broadcast slate, the first under new NBC Entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt. While acknowledging the ratings -challenged network has a long road to turnaround, executives have expressed optimism that "The Voice," a new music competition that showed some momentum this spring, can help spark new fortunes.

In 2010, Comcast Corp., including NBC Universal brands, spent $1.43 billion in measured media, according to Kantar Media.

Medialink CEO Michael Kassan was the consultant for the review.

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Contributing: Brian Steinberg

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