Change is hard: NBCU brass on future-proofing the peacock
Depending on whom you ask, this is either the worst time to be in TV, or the most exciting: Cord-cutting and so-called “time-shifting” have made it nearly impossible to reach demographically desirable viewers who won't skip the ads at the first opportunity—outside of live sports, that is.
And C3, the industry standard for measurement, is outdated but held in place by the weight of legacy.
Among other things.
And yet, count Linda Yaccarino and Josh Feldman among the hopeful. Yaccarino, of course, is chairman of advertising and partnerships for NBC Universal; Feldman is head of marketing for NBCU, whose networks include the flagship NBC broadcast channel as well as Bravo, E!, Syfy and USA Network.
Both Yaccarino and Feldman are the most recent guests on the “Ad Lib” podcast.
In a wide-ranging chat that covers everything from moving the needle on measurement, to reducing ad loads, to innovating in digital with new shoppable TV offerings, Yaccarino and Feldman discuss evolving out of necessity.
“We’ve gotten to a point where we’ve disrespected the viewing experience, but we have to deliver financials to our respective companies,” Yaccarino says of all her broadcast brethren. “The current measurement metrical currency that really does lead our entire industry doesn’t reflect our consumer behavior.”
C3—the measure of the commercials watched both live and over the subsequent three days—doesn’t allow for improving viewing experience or provide an advantage to the marketers, Yaccarino says. NBCU’s solution, CFlight, is a metric that aims to measure all live, on-demand and time-shifted commercial impressions on every platform—not just so-called “linear” TV. It's designed to provide advertisers with a comprehensive view of their ads' exposure within full episodes of NBCU shows on all screens, including via over-the-top services like Hulu and platforms such as Roku. And it has as a partner fellow broadcast giant Viacom.
But it's been slow going.
Yaccarino complains about an industry “steeped in age-old processes that in many cases companies or specific marketers didn’t know how to adapt.”
Change is hard.
Industry-wide disruption tends to force adaptation, though. NBCU has plans to introduce its own ad-supported video streaming service next year. Yaccarino has already hinted that it will pull popular shows like “The Office” from rival streamers onto its own OTT play.
“Other companies have decided to push advertisers away. We think that’s a big opportunity for our company. We’d like to invite them in. They’re very, very vulnerable right now. In a world of ad-skipping and cord-cutting, they’re running out of places to get their scaled messages with immediacy,” says Yaccarino. “Do not underestimate the consumer’s acceptance, no matter what age, [to say], ‘if I want great content, I’m going to accept some ads, particularly if I don’t have to write a subscription fee for it’.”
When asked if she foresees a future in which services like Netflix might run ads, she wasn’t shy about painting a scenario.
“I think most folks think Amazon will go first with ads. Netflix is still mostly saying, ‘No,’” she says. “But if you look at the current trajectory of the market in which several companies are making decisions to roll product off to fuel their own streaming platforms … that means they have to make more content.”
Making content costs money, and at a certain point subscription fees may not offset that cost.
“It’s not illogical to imagine that in some point in time that all of those platforms will become ad-supported,” she says.
To reduce the amount of ads viewers encounter while watching linear TV, last year NBC introduced “prime pods,” 60-second chunks of ads that run in either the first or last ad break of the show, available to no more than two advertisers. Meanwhile, Feldman and his team work with show creatives and advertisers to integrate products more seamlessly into content. He points to a partnership between NBCU network USA and Lexus on the show “Suits” in which a character gets into a new model of the car just before an ad for Lexus.
Yaccarino and Feldman also discuss the evolution of the Cannes Lions festival and NBC’s big play on the Riviera this month—NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” impresario Lorne Michaels will be on hand to accept an award, adding a dash of Hollywood to Madison Avenue’s big moment.
They also both dish on their favorite shows growing up. (Spoiler: Only one of them chose an NBC staple.)