NBCU Sales Chief Shares Her Strategy for Upfront Negotiations

Why Linda Yaccarino can't stop talking about data

For the next several weeks, Linda Yaccarino will be one of the hardest working people in television. As chairman, advertising sales and client partnerships for NBCUniversal, she's overseeing upfront negotiations for a robust TV portfolio that includes two broadcast networks, 17 cable channels and more than 50 digital properties.

"It's a world of difference from three years ago when we first had this crazy notion of bringing the company together as one portfolio," said Yaccarino, who joined the network in 2011 as president, cable entertainment and digital advertising sales (she previously oversaw sales for Turner Entertainment as evp and COO), adding NBC and Telemundo a year later.

Before ramping up her upfront negotiations, Yaccarino talked about plans for next season, her company's big swings and of course, the d-word.

Data was the buzzword of the upfronts, but is that continuing during sales meetings?
All day long! It's the lead question I get asked from all our customers: "What are you up to, what are you doing, what's next?" Data and technology will change the advertising business in the next five years more than we've seen in the last 30 years. NBCUniversal has such scale, but is owned by a company like Comcast that has such technology and a direct relationship with consumers. When we bring all these things together, that will benefit our advertising clients, and that's what truly consumes most of my days.

You rolled out ATP, your audience targeting platform, in January. How will you use it during the upfront?
This is the latest in our suite of data products. We knew we wanted to refine the media plans that we have and reduce waste. It reduces waste for us because we get better at managing our inventory, and it reduces waste or enhances what the advertiser is getting based on their deliverables, whatever their RFP says, or their brand briefs. As I like to explain it, it's giving you last year's media plan, but in the nonfat version.

C7 was all the rage during last year's upfronts. Are people still talking about that this year, or have priorities shifted?
I don't think priorities have shifted, but clients have many different priorities. So while C7 is important to some people, and NBCUniversal is open for business for C7, our data conversations have taken us in a whole new direction. To supplement the current currency that exists, we talk about a bunch of different other deliverables based on the merged data sets. It's really not about the C7 versus the C3 of it all. C7 is an incremental step in the right direction, but the problem is that the total audience remains unmeasured, and our company projects that can be anywhere from 12 [percent] to 30 percent.

We have upfronts and NewFronts now. Do you see a day where it's all combined into one?
I even went to something called the People Front! I do believe the upfront will morph as time goes by. It's all based on customer demand and interest, and we'll keep talking about that as the marketplace evolves.

You're entering talks with NBC No. 1 in adults 18-49 for the second season in a row. But without the Super Bowl, have you lost some of the leverage you had this time last year?
I wouldn't worry so much about that because we exchange one day of the Super Bowl with 17 days of the [2016] Summer Olympics. As [NBC Entertainment chairman] Bob Greenblatt said, we have a very specific, strategically designed schedule, so we'll take what will likely be the most-viewed event in television history and make that a centerpiece of a bunch of great programming that we're confident about.

What are your other heavy hitters for upfronts?
In addition to the continual juggernaut of The Voice and The Blacklist, you also think about our continued dedication to live event strategy. Sunday Night Football is the gift that keeps on giving. We're doing The Wiz around Thanksgiving, and in the fall, we have Neil Patrick Harris' show [Best Time Ever] live every week. We're taking big swings, but there is the potential for some big magic there. And I could talk all day about the dominance of Jimmy Fallon. Most nights of the week, The Tonight Show beats the other two guys in originals combined.

You were a big part of Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau (CAB) opening the door to broadcasters last month and becoming the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB).
Sean Cunningham [president and CEO, VAB] and Joe Abruzzese [co-chairman, VAB, and president, advertising sales, Discovery] saw the need for a centralized, uniform organization to communicate the messages that were important on behalf of premium video content, and that it was no longer about cable versus broadcast. I remember saying to Sean, "We're fighting an old war that's been over for a long time." Once I joined NBCUniversal, it became crystal clear that there's a great need in the marketplace for research data insights to have one collective voice, and Sean and Joe made the vision become a reality.

Some buyers have been frustrated with having to parse each network's different data initiatives. Could VAB open the door to a single metric for data?
I'm not sure one metric is the way to go because I don't think a one-size-fits-all in this day and age of personalization and customization makes sense. But I certainly think it could be easier on the customer. So maybe the VAB does morph into something that's a central place for data and metrics—but maybe that's different from a currency.

With Aquarius, NBC is the first broadcast network to stream an entire season ahead of its linear run. What prompted this?
As we're navigating this new world where new modeling and platform distribution is very important, and we're less worried about "let me see the overnight," we thought this was the perfect vehicle and perfect time of year to do it. We want to challenge the norm and see what works, and we're pretty excited about the data that we'll get back from it.

Which non-NBCU show do you wish you were selling this upfront?
Empire is a show I think would fit right in on our air. And it's not because of the gigantic ratings—though it sort of is—it's about the ability to create and share moments with a ton of people and then talk about it. No other medium can do that, and that particular show fits the brand filter for our company.