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NBCUniversal Is Using Big Data to Launch Its Audience Targeting Platform

Will supplement, not replace, Nielsen metric

There's a "deafening demand" from advertisers for data, Linda Yaccarino, NBCU's new chairman of ad sales, said. Photo: Getty Images

That was, in corporate terms, fast.

After 18 months of development, NBCUniversal is leveraging third- and first-party data to create what the company is calling its Audience Targeting Platform (ATP). In conceptual terms, it's not too different from what outside outfits like Simul Media and the recently acquired PrecisionDemand have done for clients; practically, though, it's got a lot more data behind it.

The third-party info isn't that different from what we've seen before in the space, but NBCU's own properties provide information no one else has seen—not including Comcast's own set-top box information (an earlier version of this story said that Comcast's set-top info would be used in this initiative; NBCUniversal tells us this not the case).

"We're using an extensive list of data suppliers," explained Linda Yaccarino, newly promoted to chairman of ad sales and client partnerships. "They will be category-specific. If I'm going after auto, I might use Polk data, but I might also use Fandango first-party data (NBCUniversal owns Fandango). You're able to take brand direction from the customer, run all that through the ATP and come up with an inventory allocation recommendation." The set-top box data will be provided through third parties across the country; there are plenty of large firms that do this kind of targeting—Acxiom and Experian are the two largest.

That means about 30 percent of NBCUniversal's inventory—the good stuff—will be pulled, run through this system and offered to people it can serve the best. If the data shows that insomniac Pringles consumers might be susceptible to conversion to Funyuns during late-night marathons of Haven, Frito-Lay will hear about it. If it turns out high-net-worth viewers can't get enough of The Blacklist, someone will call Infiniti.

"We're able to give them a plan with more effectiveness and efficiency," says Yaccarino, and presumably, that will also mean higher prices on this kind of premium placement.

It's a good time to be serving data metrics to advertisers, but don't mistake this kind of leap forward for a switchover from Nielsen data. The proposed media plans will overlay Nielsen's gross rating point metric rather than replace it. And since Nielsen's Catalina unit sells similar data, it will be interesting to see what advertisers do if NBCUniversal's in-house information differs. On the one hand, NBCU is going to serve its own interests; on the other, it has direct access to a lot of programming info.

Yaccarino said the program is driven entirely by "deafening demand" from advertisers, who, she says, want more data and greater efficiency from TV buys. The company tried something like this around the same time last year—called NBCU+ Powered by Comcast, which did in fact use Comcast's set-top box information. Yaccarino said the new platform will differ from that smaller program by supplying the data on a program level, across all of the company's properties.

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