Over the past decade, NBCUniversal has had great success creating branded content campaigns for its advertising partners, which air across the NBCU portfolio of networks. But the company realized it could be generating even more business in that space. "People think, 'Oh, I know you do that, but only when I buy media from you and it's part of a media deal,'" said John Harrobin, chief marketing officer, NBCU advertising sales, of their branded content efforts. "But we have opportunity well beyond that."
Especially now: The company has launched The NBCU Content Studio. It will develop and produce content for advertising clients utilizing NBCU's creative talent, data, distribution and scale (including its partners BuzzFeed, Vox and AOL). But that content won't necessarily appear on any of its linear or digital platforms.
"Brands are becoming programmers and publishers. They want to build content that people want to watch," said Wendy Wildfeuer, svp, The Content Studio, who will oversee the new studio's staff of one dozen. "To reach audiences today, you have to be everywhere, but you can't be everywhere with the same thing."
So the studio will tailor content for individual platforms—which could include, say, a short-form YouTube series, a separate Snapchat activation, a podcast and linear spots—while also appearing on the advertiser's brand platforms, mobile sites and apps.
"There's this saying at our company: because of the expanse of our portfolio, we produce or create four years worth of content in one year, compared to the average company," said Linda Yaccarino, chairman, NBCU advertising sales and client partnerships. "And because of the size of our company, our access to that IP and the assets we have, it made sense to 'go public' with our creative capabilities."
Particularly in this volatile media landscape, with advertising budgets shifting from linear to digital and back again, and so many advertisers putting their agencies under review, "we have an opportunity to be a stronger, more valuable partner to both agencies and our clients," said Harrobin.
The Content Studio hasn't lined up any specific clients yet, but Harrobin said there has already been interest from the automotive, financial services and theatrical categories. While this is "definitely going to be part of our upfront messaging, in terms of the capability," said Harrobin, "it's not something that I think we will package in with a traditional upfront media buy." However, he believes those upfront conversations will end up generating business for the studio.
As the Content Studio gets up and running, the company isn't worried that NBCU talent will be less inclined to participate in branded content that appears outside their "home" company. "Our talent is very mindful of their own brand. So they're not going to do anything to dilute their brand," said Harrobin. Instead, the hope is that the Content Studio will be able to provide opportunities for talent and creatives who are eager to experiment with ways to engage viewers. Said Wildfeuer, "We're matching a brand that needs talent and creators that need an outlet."
Linda Yaccarino reflected on her company's most successful content partnerships with brands last year, which helped inspire The NBCU Content Studio.
Fallonventions, GE's kid inventor segments on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, "are held up in the industry as a gold standard," said Yaccarino of the spots, which won two Clio gold awards.
Saturday Night Live actors starred in branded content for Fiat that ran across NBCU's lifestyle networks and "really, truly speaks to the amount of assets that we're able to pull from and get the creative juices flowing."
The USA comedy's stars created custom spots for VOD sponsors Comcast, Samsung and Toyota. "They were inlined with the show's creative story arc, and that's what's next for scale at our company."
This story first appeared in the March 21 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.