Agency media investment executives say they’re intrigued by NBCUniversal’s just-announced commitment to offer $1 billion in cross-platform ad deals based on audience-based guarantees.
That $1 billion would reportedly represent roughly 17% of NBCU’s total upfront commitments.
Several agency executives contacted by Audience Buyer Insider after the announcement said that while they welcome expansion of the ability to buy based on audience data rather than standard Nielsen age and gender demographics, they also have a host of questions about how the specifics may pan out in practice.
In time for television’s upcoming 2017-2018 upfront, NBCU said that it will employ Audience Symphony — the latest iteration of its Symphony cross-platform offering, which incorporates its Audience Studio data-driven ad-targeting capabilities — to implement targeted deals across its portfolio of broadcast, cable and digital properties, plus the platforms of partners including BuzzFeed, Vox Media, Apple News and Snapchat.
The offering is “fueled by Comcast set-top data across all screens” and brings together a variety of data sets to offer advertisers NBCU’s premium content combined with “the laser targeting that they crave,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships for NBCU.
The company also said that its linear programmatic offering, NBCUx for Linear, which last year was available only in the scatter market, will be available for this year’s upfront. In addition, its Audience Targeting Platform will now be available to all clients in the upfront and in scatter markets.
Devil’s In The Details’
Media Kitchen president Barry Lowenthal says he views NBCU’s audience-based guarantee deals commitment as a “big, smart” move.
“This represents a lot of inventory and sends a clear message to the industry and NBC’s competitors,” Lowenthal says. Advertisers are demanding the ability to use data strategies to reach audiences “lower in the funnel and closer to purchase” and stop relying on too-broad age/gender demographics, and “NBC seems to be leading the charge,” he says.
He adds, however, that important as such moves are, he believes that they’re “short-term fixes,” because linear television audiences are moving to other platforms. “Automating linear TV buying using data overlays will allow us to buy pockets of our audiences in an aging medium,” Lowenthal says.
Mitch Oscar, USIM’s advanced television strategist, notes that last year’s upfront saw the introduction of cross-portfolio audience-based buying programs by what he terms “contextual audience” networks — NBCU, Fox, Turner, Discovery, Viacom and A&E — and predicts that such initiatives will expand again and play a much bigger role in this year’s upfront.
“It’s terrific that that we’re now looking at audience as opposed to platforms, and adding these more targeted elements definitely enhances traditional campaigns,” he says.
But he adds that, at least in this transitional stage, the complexity created by the numerous data sources being used within and across various players is a challenge for media planners and buyers.
By Oscar’s count, the six networks’ audience-based buying programs encompass 30 different data sources. NBCU’s new offering increases that total by one, and brings NBCU’s own source count to eight. When the data sets currently used by addressable and programmatic platforms are added, the total across the three platform ecosystems comes to about 60, he reports.
Within networks’ own walled gardens, as well as across players, there are too many different products, media platforms, data sources and metrics “to understand how or if they all fit together, and how that fits with traditional television buying,” Oscar says. “The movement toward bridging video platforms is great. The challenge is getting there.”
“The devil is in the details,” concurs the advanced television specialist at another agency. “You need to go behind the headline and really understand the inventory offering. Is there a fixed allocation across the different channels and media? It could be online inventory blended with some linear inventory, priced at linear prices, which would be great for NBC, but not so much for brands.
“Also, how much of this is truly incremental revenue versus existing revenue packaged differently?” he adds. “It’s easy to value inventory at $1 billion but are the individual elements actually worth $1 billion?”
To this executive’s mind, transparency will be the key issue.
“How transparent does NBC intend to be with the data across Comcast set-top boxes?” he wonders. “What formula does Comcast use to extrapolate its set-top box coverage across all DMAs, and what level of granularity are they offering to prospective clients?”