Linda Yaccarino

NBCU Bets $1B on Data-Driven Advertising

Audience Symphony guarantees reaching targeted consumers across all platforms

NBCUniversal is expanding its data-driven advertising business, earmarking $1 billion worth of inventory for targeted campaigns.

One new product, Audience Symphony, lets marketers reach their target consumers across all of NBCU’s portfolio of broadcast and cable networks, digital properties and partner companies, including Vox, BuzzFeed, Snapchat and Apple News.

NBCU plans to start signing up clients before the upfront market gets underway and it will guarantee to reach audiences of targeted consumers, rather than the traditional demos such as adults 18-49 that have been used to buy and sell advertising.

The company also plans to extend its programmatic TV offering when clients make upfront buys—it has been available in scatter up till now—and is opening up its Audience Targeting Platform, which optimizes campaigns, to advertisers in all categories, whether they buy in the upfront or not.

Comcast’s NBCU—along Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting and Viacom—is among the leaders as the TV business moves toward using data to create more efficient and effective advertising in order to compete with digital competitors who have promised more targeted advertising with more accountable results.

Digital Doubts

Lately some advertisers have been seeking audits of the data they’ve been getting from digital companies like Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat. They’ve also complained that some ads are being seen by robots, that ads are viewable in only small portions of the screen and play without sound, lowering their effectiveness.

But while data has been a big talking point among TV ad sales executives for several years, advanced forms of targeted advertising have remained a small part of the business.

NBCU has been rolling out data-based ad products for several years and last year began selling ads to limited groups of clients based on target audience guarantees, rather than the normal C3 commercial rating.

“We spent the last year learning what we need to know about our audiences, delivering on the buys that we had already guaranteed last year. So we wanted to walk before we ran,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of NBCU ad sales and client partnerships.

“We found that the size and the scale of our portfolio is so enormous that you’re probably going to be able to guarantee on almost any segment that anyone can conjure up,” Yaccarino said. “Then we learned that anybody who came in and got a little taste of it said ‘I want to come back for more.’ And they came back for seconds. And the deal sizes started to increase.”

NBCU says its Audience Studio has worked with more than 400 advertisers to improve targeting, extend reach and deliver higher engagement.

“Not only was there a growing demand,” Yaccarino said, "but our Audience Studio was ready. We know we could handle a capacity of a billion dollars.”

In order to do audience targeting, client ad schedules are frequently updated to find properties that have the appropriate viewers. That sometimes means that instead of an ad running on one network, it will run on another. Yaccarino is confident that if it moves a client out of a spot on a network, it can find value there and another buyer for it.

Conducting Campaigns

NBCU’s Symphony was originally a way for Comcast and NBCU to push corporate projects by using all of the assets at the company’s disposal. Symphony efforts launched movies like Despicable Me and brought record numbers of viewers to the London Olympics.

NBCU later began selling Symphony to a small number of outside marketers and now it is selling data-powered packages through Audience Symphony.

“It really is an answer to our clients’ demand. We’re giving them the opportunity to aggregate the biggest amount of premium audiences across screens anywhere in the industry with the targeting that they crave that quite frankly they thought they were getting from the digital guys, but it just hasn’t paid off.,” Yaccarino said.

“We’re going to take a billion dollars and we’re going to carve it out, and we’re going to make it available on these audience guarantees uniquely,” she said.

The audience guarantees mean that NBCU is talking to clients about business solutions, not C3 or C7 ratings. “We can confidently say we moved product off your shelf. We put butts in seats. We had test drives show up in your showroom,” Yaccarino said. “We wish there was a currency for this, but it doesn’t exist. So we built it ourselves.”

Offering a big chunk of its inventory—possibly as much as 20% of what NBCU would normally sell in an upfront—in Audience Symphony packages before the upfront could possibly tighten up NBCU’s inventory and raise prices for advertisers making traditional buys.

But Yaccarino says NBCU is offering Audience Symphony before the upfront because “we’re ready. And quite frankly our clients are asking for it. We’re already in business with them. The buys are getting more consistent and bigger.”

She notes that NBCU’s digital competitors sell all year long, and NBCU has to do business that way as well. “It’s inconsequential if the upfront is happening or not.”

For its linear programmatic TV offering, NBCU is expanding the demand-side platform beyond the current platforms, TubeMogul, AOL and Videology.