Ad Agencies Support Comcast/NBCU Alliance

Comcast/NBCU

Despite fears that the mass of networks at a new NBC Universal could lead to higher rates, the advertising community has shown enthusiastic support for a Comcast-NBCU combination. Encouraging to Comcast is their assertion that the joint venture will open opportunities for them.

Last month, media units within Publicis and WPP, along with the independent TargetCast tcm and Naked Communications, filed letters of support with the FCC, which would have to approve the proposed merger.

And Comcast cited their endorsement in an FCC filing last week.

AOL, however, has filed a protest, arguing that a new Comcast could force advertisers to use its platforms "exclusively" or face a degree of retaliation. "Advertisers that do not acquiesce run the risk of being foreclosed from advertising in conjunction with 'must have' popular content, such as premium network shows," the online company wrote to the FCC in June.

AOL also said that even without "an explicit exclusivity clause," Comcast could hurt competitors by offering attractive pricing if advertisers bought large packages covering multiple properties. AOL streams TV content that competes with NBC.com, Fancast and other sites that would fall under a new Comcast.

In a document last week, Comcast shot back that when adding its assets to those of NBCU, there would be only a "very small increase in concentration" in the marketplace.

Part and parcel, it said, bulked-up deals would be a plus: "Rather than creating any anti-competitive effects, the ability to offer package deals and volume discounts is a competitive benefit of the transaction."

At Publicis, top VivaKi executive Curt Hecht wrote of the deal: "Consumers will win. Advertisers will win. The industry will win."

Hecht suggested the new entity will "actually expand the market" for advertiser options, since it supplies new opportunities to reach mass audiences by using NBC, its owned local stations and cable networks.

At the same time, Naked founding partner Paul Woolmington wrote that many of his clients want to zero in on specific demos. And with the merger of a cable operator with NBCU, "not only will such targeting become possible, it will swiftly emerge as the 'new norm.'" And competitors will follow.

Several agency executives indicated the company would be a technology pacesetter. Starcom MediaVest Group's Laura Desmond cited the potential for delivering interactive and addressable advertising -- presumably by flowing NBCU content into Comcast cable homes.

Starcom MediaVest, which falls under VivaKi, has partnerships with Comcast, which have included testing addressable advertising and developing new online ad models with Hulu, where Comcast owns a stake.

TargetCast CEO Steve Farella hinted that a new Comcast might be prompted to move more quickly and help advertisers tap into coveted data available through its set-top boxes. That could bring "more reliable metrics that will show ... exactly how many viewers are viewing and reacting to an ad."

The CEO of WPP's MindShare North America, Phil Cowdell, endorsed Comcast cable's commitment to carry more niche independent channels. "More diverse content means a greater ability to target specific demographic categories," he wrote.

Still, Comcast's pledge to add independent outlets has not stopped interest groups from lobbying the FCC to ensure that a merged company does not unfairly treat independent networks.

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