Inside NBCUniversal’s Billion-Dollar Bet on Data-Based Advertising

The company takes the training wheels off its Audience Studio suite

For years, media buyers have struggled with the disconnect between the “inordinate amount of time” they spend defining custom targets and audiences for their clients, “and then ultimately, when we go to market, we end up buying a Nielsen age/sex demo, adults 18-49. It’s entirely disingenuous to the front part of the process,” said David Cohen, president, North America, Magna Global.

NBCUniversal

While almost all of the TV media companies have been rolling out their own data platforms to transact more advertising based on metrics outside of the traditional age and gender demos, NBCUniversal is making the biggest push yet to transition brands into making targeted audience buys. Last month, the company announced it was committing $1 billion in 2017 advertising inventory to data-based, non-Nielsen transactions in this year’s upfront and scatter markets. That’s 10 percent of the $10 billion in ad revenue the company brought in last year.

“We are giving the client the best of both worlds: the premium content that is truly responsible for the success of a brand with the laser targeting that they crave,” Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships for NBCUniversal, told Adweek last month.

That $1 billion will be transacted via NBCU’s Audience Studio suite of offerings, whose data set includes set top box data from Comcast (NBCU’s parent company). The dollar amount is “a significant multiple” of last year’s data-based transactions, said Mike Rosen, evp, portfolio sales and strategy, NBCUniversal, who explained that the company purposely restricted inventory as it launched its platforms. “We did not want to rush to the market before we knew it would work.”

But after three years of testing the company’s data capabilities, “now we feel the training wheels can come off, that we are ready to deploy this in a truly scalable way. That’s what the billion dollars represents: this is not test and learn anymore,” said Rosen.

NBCU’s 10-figure commitment to data-based inventory “is an aggressive target,” said Magna Global’s Cohen. “But as we always say, we need to plant the flag beyond our reach and just pull ourselves to it. So kudos to Linda for doing that.”

Here are the four components of NBCU’s Audience Studio data offerings:

Managed service

NBCU’s Audience Targeting Platform (ATP) combines the Audience Studio’s data assets with other first- or third-party data (some of which can be supplied by clients), and the company’s technology recommends what clients should purchase across its portfolio. “We guarantee the delivery of the audience segment that is mutually agreed on with the client,” said Rosen. Previously only open to limited brand segments in the upfront, it is now accessible to all clients, in both upfront and scatter.

Linear programmatic

This option is for clients and agencies that prefer to use their own data set and make their own investment decisions, rather than have NBCU handle that, as is the case with ATP. First offered six months ago in scatter only, it’s also now available in the upfront market.

Addressable

The company’s NBCU+ Powered by Comcast platform uses the same audience data that informs national buys and offers household-level marketing via VOD dynamic insertion in Comcast homes. Because Comcast is a programmer and a distributor, this is the only opportunity for brands to run addressable ads in broadcast network inventory (on NBC and Telemundo); addressable advertising is usually restricted to cable network inventory that cable and satellite companies have access to.

Multiplatform audience buying

NBCU’s newest data platform, Audience Symphony, expands that same audience-targeting approach beyond linear and into all the digital, mobile and social platforms the company owns, along with partners like BuzzFeed, Vox, Snapchat and Apple News. “Symphony is that platform’s agnostic way to scale an audience approach across almost every consumer touch point during the day,” said Rosen.