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The Big Picture: Considering the Future of TV Advertising at 4A’s StratFest

October 29th, 2019   ||    by Tony Case

The Big Picture: Considering the Future of TV Advertising at 4A’s StratFest

Traditional, ad-supported media are aggressively reimagining and adapting their businesses to better serve consumers and advertisers alike, on a local, national and global scale.

No media player, no matter how established or how dominant, is immune from change in this brave new consumer-centered world.

Consider Comcast/NBCUniversal, which last year made headlines with its $39 billion acquisition of U.K. media giant Sky TV, making the already powerful U.S.-based conglomerate — whose roots go back to the earliest radio and TV broadcasts, and the very first commercials — even mightier.

“As the world becomes a global marketplace for consumers, we needed to go global,” Linda Yaccarino, chairman, advertising and partnerships at NBCU, said of the Sky acquisition during the annual American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) StratFest in New York.

Long before adding Sky to its portfolio, the company strived to simplify buying advertising across its disparate array of properties, including the NBC television network, NBC Sports, the Spanish-language network Telemundo and cable channels like Bravo, CNBC, Oxygen and USA Network.

“As the world was coming together, it was important to coalesce everything together so you’d think of us as one common platform,” Yaccarino explained. “That meant bringing people together, but it also meant we needed to invest in technology to make, as automated as TV can be, platforms that made it easier for us to do commerce together.”

Yaccarino admitted the process still isn’t perfect, but added, “we’re getting better at it.”

Another thing NBCU is learning more about is streaming video as it gears up next April to introduce the service Peacock, entering an already crowded field of streaming services including Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, not to mention forthcoming startups from Apple, Disney and HBO. Yaccarino noted that Sky TV was already far ahead of the streaming game, which is why NBCU relocated Sky’s streaming specialists from the U.K. to the U.S. to work on Peacock.

NBCU also looked to innovate by way of Sky’s ad unit, whose advanced advertising product AdSmart was migrated over to NBCU. As B+C reported in announcing the news this past March, “AdSmart will combine NBCU’s Audience Studio targeting capabilities with Sky’s addressable advertising tools and allow global brands to reach customers in international markets and measure results across NBCU and Sky’s TV and digital portfolio.”

Apart from all the changes related to Sky, NBCU has introduced other innovations that have served to transform the old ways of doing business between television and advertisers. One recent ad program, for example, encompassed a major NBCU advertiser (Procter & Gamble), a pro sports behemoth (the National Football League), and NBCU cable and broadcast properties and programs ranging from NBC’s “The Voice” and WWE to Bravo’s “Real Housewives” and the NBC daytime drama “The Days of Our Lives.” Social media platforms including Twitter and YouTube were also employed in the push.

After all the buzz surrounding the program, other advertisers including Budweiser approached the company about developing custom content.

Today, NBCU is inviting in its ad partners “much more upstream in the process,” said Yaccarino. Not so long ago, those who created programming for the company still balked at bowing to the dictates of advertisers. That’s all changed, with advertisers now taking “a seat at the creative table,” said Yaccarino. It has admittedly made for some strange bedfellows. Even the notoriously prickly “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels has sat down with advertisers.

“In television, the agency for a long time acted as a firewall between the network and its clients, so it created a bigger distance, an unnecessary distance, in what you were trying to accomplish on behalf of advertisers and what we, as content creators and distributors, were trying to deliver to our audience, which was the best content,” Yaccarino told the strategists. “When we started coming together, it was to accomplish the same thing: to tell our stories in an authentic way to maximize emotion and inspire action.”

Still more innovation is needed, the executive stressed — particularly on the measurement and accountability front, where, she says, NBCU continues to be “handcuffed by legacy metrics that have nothing to do with effectiveness,” admitting, “It’s a guess how many people might have watched a show.”

She noted that the day prior to her appearance at StratFest was the first day C3 ratings were delivered for prime-time shows for the new fall season — a season that was, at that point, in its fifth week. “I think that says it all,” she said, adding, “The illogical nature of that in an always-on, on-demand, real-time world is ridiculous. It doesn’t mean I don’t think there’s value in a verified currency and metric, but we have to redefine what the report cards and the benchmarks are. KPIs have to be redefined — it’s not going to be one size fits all.”

She asked the strategists, “What are you trying to achieve? Reach? We’ve got it — here’s your plan. Some kind of other outcome? Search results? An increase in insurance policies? Let’s talk about it. That’s what will grow both our businesses.”

At the new streaming service Peacock, advertising experimentation and innovation will only be accelerated. After all, it is the first platform in a very long time at the company that arrives on the market totally unencumbered by legacy and all the constraints that come with that.

Said Yaccarino, “We can be the parents of the reinvention of advertising, but we can’t do it alone.”

Meanwhile, leading the charge toward change in the local TV marketplace is Videa, an automated ad sales company that partners with broadcast stations to deliver the only live, supply-side marketplace for full-schedule, forward-reserve inventory that can be ordered weeks or even quarters in advance, simplifying the buying and selling of local TV inventory. Videa’s partners range from the local station groups of major media players like Cox, Hearst, Scripps and Sinclair to DSPs like Adobe Advertising Cloud, Amobee and The Trade Desk.

As Videa president Shereta Williams said in an interview with the website MarTech Series: “Part of the service we provide to our customers is centered around the idea of change leadership. Driving change requires helping people accept and acknowledge that there might be better, more effective ways of doing business. It also means helping to establish best practices so everyone understands how to leverage these new tools for their unique sales strategies.”

As media choices and audiences become more fragmented, traditional media like television — on a local, national and global scale — will only amp up the experimentation, innovation and transformation to cater to consumers and advertisers alike.

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