NBC Entertainment Awards Media Business to Publicis’ Spark Foundry

WPP's GroupM defended the account

Estimated billings run as high as $250 million. Getty Images
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Publicis Media’s Spark Foundry has won media planning and buying duties for the Entertainment division of NBC, according to multiple parties with direct knowledge of the matter.

This decision follows a competitive review. Earlier this year, the media conglomerate issued an RFP for the account, which encompasses campaigns promoting NBC’s prime-time programming lineup. According to one party, the business that changed hands with this decision amounts to a minority of the company’s total portfolio, and NBC may be taking an unspecified portion of the work in-house.

Adweek’s sources also confirmed that the incumbent, WPP’s Essence, defended as part of a GroupM network team. Spokespeople for that agency and GroupM deferred to the client. Parent company NBCUniversal did not respond to requests for comment.

“We have been working with Comcast for the past 10 years, and we are thrilled to expand our existing relationship to bring the heat to NBC Entertainment,” said Spark Foundry CEO and global brand president Chris Boothe in a statement provided the day after this story went live. “NBC has a robust year ahead of them, and being awarded this business speaks to Spark Foundry’s ability to successfully deliver results tied to an innovative strategy.”

Fran Pessagno, east region president and Comcast client lead, added, “NBC is one of the most storied companies in entertainment, and we look forward to working with them to ensure they maintain their undisputed leadership position in this ever-changing media landscape.”

Essence will continue to manage the majority of NBCUniversal’s ad buying business, including its cable, digital, film, ad sales and owned stations divisions.

This move marks an expansion of Publicis Groupe’s relationship with NBCUniversal owner Comcast, which acquired a majority stake in the broadcast giant from GE in late 2009, several months after shifting all regional accounts to Mediavest without a review.

Two years later, the resulting conglomerate divided its media business between WPP and Publicis, with Mediavest and Starcom retaining Comcast cable and picking up theme parks and NBC going to WPP’s Maxus. The latter agency then won NBC digital work before WPP combined it with MEC to create Wavemaker and turned Essence into a separate unit that subsequently took over the entirety of the holding company’s NBCUniversal business.

In a series of restructuring moves, Mediavest became Mediavest | Spark and then Spark Foundry in the summer of 2017 before expanding its relationship with the client by winning a review for Hispanic brands Telemundo and Universo Media. Earlier this month, Publicis confirmed its plans to merge that global network with Blue 449 while retaining the latter name in three key regions.

The reasoning behind NBC’s decision to review its entertainment business remains unclear at this time. The network regularly wins the ratings game on the strength of such shows as This Is Us, The Voice and the three Chicago-themed drama series, and its profits for 2018 exceeded expectations.

In a blog post earlier this month, the company reported that its Prime Pod ad units, which consist of 60-second spots during the first and last ad breaks of primetime shows, delivered increases in engagement and purchase intent. NBC also recently announced plans to team up with U.K.-based broadcast giant Sky to provide more precise targeting capabilities for global ad partners, and today it launched a Golf Channel-branded ecommerce platform.

NBCUniversal plans to roll out a free streaming service in 2020.

Billings estimates for the account vary widely. NBCUniversal spends more than $1 billion in paid media across its divisions in the U.S. each year, and Kantar Media’s most recent numbers have NBC Media’s total at approximately $208 million for 2018. Two sources close to the business offered very different numbers, with one as high as $250 million and one at just over $115 million.

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.