Laura Molen will have some big, designer shoes to fill when she steps on stage Monday to pitch advertisers during NBC Universal’s upfront at Radio City Music Hall.
Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising and client partnerships, handed over the day-to-day sales operations of the peacock to Molen and Mark Marshall last year. In their new roles, Molen and Marshall, who both serve as president of advertising and partnerships, will also lead negotiations in the highly competitive TV upfront marketplace, where last year NBCU brought in just under $3 billion.
In the weeks leading up to the dog-and-pony show, Molen spoke about her new role, how Sky will be part of the upfront conversation and her plans to woo direct-to-consumer brands.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
Ad Age: What are your priorities in your new role?
Molen: As a leader in my new role it’s how do we empower the teams to be the best they can be in a truly disruptive time. We have so many talented millennials with different ideas, different perspectives, and they are hungry and want more. How do we give them a greater voice, because they are so valuable? Gen Z is going to be starting to enter the marketplace. How do we use their knowledge and talents?
Also, how do I help inspire women who are in the messy middle—you know, when you first start having children? Now, my children are older, but those managers with young children, which is always a messy time in a woman’s career, they wonder: Do I continue to elevate? Do I take on more or is that going to disrupt my family? How can I be the best that I can be? By not running the day-to-day business units I can do more.
Ad Age: How much pressure do you feel taking over for Linda during the upfronts?
Molen: As Chairman, Linda will always play a crucial role in the NBC Universal upfront by setting the tone for our entire division - our work this upfront follows the mission and path she put us all on. But I am extremely grateful for Linda's trust and belief in me, and I'm lucky to have an incredible partner in Mark Marshall and the best team in the business to make this upfront our most successful yet. I'm excited to be taking on this leadership position and I know that none of this could happen without everyone in our division and across the entire company stepping up to the plate and helping us set the new standard for the entire industry.
Ad Age: Last year, Comcast acquired European satellite broadcaster Sky. For the first time, NBCU will be taking the division into the upfronts. What are the opportunities there for advertisers?
Molen: We have great interest from marketers who look at the European market and look at the U.S. market and want to find a way to create efficiencies, whether it is across content [or] audiences. So we are in those conversations as we head into the upfronts. I use sports or news as great examples. We have properties for soccer, for example, across Spanish-language TV, English-language TV in the U.S. and now all over Europe. So if someone really wanted to own soccer in a bigger way, we could pull together the assets across Sky and NBC Universal and create this global soccer package.
Same thing with news. Also other areas of entertainment. Red carpet for example, E! has an unbelievable global footprint with red carpet. How do we pool all of it together to make this bigger premium content offering? Same thing with AdSmart; AdSmart was the data platform for audience-buying from Sky, we adopted it as our own using their name, some of their technology, and now we can offer marketers the Sky audience in the pool if they so choose to optimize across all of these markets.
Ad Age: What is the biggest challenge going into the upfronts?
Molen: I think our misalignment as an industry is the greatest barrier that we face heading to the upfront, and I wish we could all partner together to make it easier for the marketer and buyer.
Ad Age: How much do you expect business during the upfronts to be guaranteed on metrics other than age and gender?
Molen: We are hearing from marketers that they are looking to do things in a non-traditional way. And I would say this year, more than ever before, marketers are leaning in and agencies are leaning in. It’s not one-size-fits-all any more for age/gender guarantees.
Ad Age: Can you give a percentage or dollar figure on how much business will be guaranteed on these metrics?
Molen: It is so hard for me to put a number on it because it is too early in timing to even talk like that. The market is going to tell us where that goes. But again, it is significantly more than last year.
Ad Age: How much do you expect the upfronts to really change this year?
Molen: I would say it is definitely going to be a different type of upfront. You have your d-to-c marketers, which don’t typically buy in an upfront, want to do business this way.
Ad Age: How are you looking to attract more d-to-c brands during the upfronts?
Molen: We created a d-to-c team reporting to me. What we are seeing is a lot of these new marketers are coming in to our platforms; some come in through direct response, others are coming in through programmatic buying, some come in through traditional buying. As we start to work with these clients, more and more we are learning so much about our business. When clients are audience-buying, they are looking for direct business results, and we are learning from them areas of the portfolio that are valuable for helping to sell their product…You are seeing agencies like Horizon creating shops and having deeper conversations about it because they have a different life cycle, they operate differently, they need different things.
So we need to pivot to that, so we are working on new, favorable NBCU deal terms for d-to-c companies. We are going to embrace when they come in through direct response, but we want to work to help the client get smarter about their media buy and move them through the business.... We are working with Giant Spoon and we have done some really great deals, but I can’t talk about them right now. They include pieces of content and pieces of audience-buying in a very unique way. We are looking at this model and bringing it to other marketers and offering opportunities to create unique content using our IP to help them generate interest, and depending what they want, using AdSmart to find their audiences and help them better target consumers to deliver results.
Ad Age: Last year you introduced so-called prime pods, or one-minute commercial breaks. How are you revamping ad formats this year, and how are prime pods evolving?
Molen: We are adding more prime pods in other dayparts like late night and the “Today” show and early morning, as well as cable in some areas. We are continuing to push to make the commercial experience better.
Ad Age: How much of a reduction in commercial loads has there really been?
Molen: We absolutely reduced commercial loads in prime pod shows. When you look at ad loads from last year, compared to years prior, across NBC Universal they will be down. The results have been really positive for the consumer. Millennials are telling us all [of our commercials] should be prime pods. Obviously we aren’t going to do that right now, but it is something for us to listen to as we build our OTT product.
Ad Age: Viacom announced it will utilize CFlight, NBCU’s cross-platform measurement. Do you expect others to do the same?
Molen: We are expanding CFlight across the portfolio. Last year it was just primetime on NBC and sports. Now CFlight will be used for every single property on NBC Universal. Right now, just Viacom made the announcement and we are hopeful others will make an announcement soon enough.