TV Upfront

NBCU Commits to $1 Billion in Ad Deals That Move Beyond Nielsen Guarantees

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Linda Yaccarino, chairman-advertising sales and client partnerships, NBC Universal.
Linda Yaccarino, chairman-advertising sales and client partnerships, NBC Universal. Credit: Joseph Moran/NBCUniversal

Ahead of this year's upfront marketplace for ad time in the next TV season, NBC Universal is expanding the amount of inventory it would sell based on data other than traditional Nielsen demographics guarantees.

The company is setting aside $1 billion in inventory to sell using non-Nielsen guarantees, more than double the business it conducted that way last year, according to Linda Yaccarino, chairman-advertising sales and client partnerships, NBC Universal. It is also opening negotiations to advertisers in any category, in both the upfront and the year-round scatter market, after limiting 2016 deals to certain clients during the upfront.

And it is expanding its targeting and alternative guarantees to its Symphony campaigns, which allow marketers to incorporate all of the company's TV and digital assets. NBCU's portfolio includes the NBC broadcast network and cable channels including Bravo, Syfy and USA Network.

Just because NBCU is willing to sell that much inventory on a non-Nielsen basis doesn't mean that the market will bite. If the set-aside inventory doesn't move, NBCU will sell it in the traditional way.

But Ms. Yaccarino is confident in the appeal of alternative approaches. Thus far, opportunities for marketers to apply data other than Nielsen metrics to target audiences on linear TV has been limited, with a small pool of inventory available to be purchased utilizing other currencies.

NBCU's move is partly a bid to compete with the data-driven targeting of digital advertising, which has been attractive to marketers. It is also a step to rely less on ad dollars that are tied to Nielsen ratings.

"This is giving marketers the targeting they crave with premium content," Ms. Yaccarino said. "They thought they were getting that with digital, but that didn't quite work out."

"There's chaos on the digital side," she added, citing the misrepresentation of data, ad fraud, issues with ad visibility and a lack of standardization. "Clients want to be in a great premium environment that is safe, legitimate and trustworthy, but can also deliver on business goals."

NBCU first began allowing marketers to buy audiences against more specific data points through its Audience Targeting Platform during last year's upfront. So an auto maker, for example, could buy inventory guaranteed to reach households with an income over $100,000 and a car lease set to expire in six months. But the opportunity was limited to certain advertisers.

Traditional Nielsen ratings have been on a long-term decline across TV, something that networks blame partly on Nielsen's inability to capture non-traditional viewing. But Ms. Yaccarino has also been vocal about the issues with Nielsen's Total Content Ratings, the measurement giant's effort to capture the full universe of TV consumption. She said in December that the syndicated product was not ready for a wide release.

Ms. Yaccarino said the decision to expand NBCU's use of alternative currencies is not meant as a statement on Nielsen, but acknowledged that the delays in getting to cross-platform measurement have forced the company to build other solutions themselves.

NBCU's commitment may open up more inventory to be bought with different data sets, but it doesn't alleviate some of the other obstacles that have made the marketplace question the usefulness of such network ad products.

A lack of standardization makes it impossible to target audiences across the TV landscape. Each network group is using different data sets, algorithms and technology, which means you can't compare one to another. And some agencies and marketers remain wary of using ad sellers' data to make ad-buying decisions.

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