NBCUniversal Is Beta-Testing a New AI Ad Offering to Reach Consumers in the Proper Context

AdSmart Context uses machine learning to pair programming with relevant advertising

AdSmart Context would tag an episode of Modern Family in which characters are driving with words like “driving,” “accidents,” “insurance” and “funny.” Getty Images

CANNES, France—NBCUniversal is about to go live with a new advertising product that uses machine learning to sort through episodes of its content library and pair that programming with relevant advertising.

Called AdSmart Context, the product is one of the new types of advertising in beta that the network is presenting to brands at the Cannes Lions festival this year.

“I feel very, very strongly that you can audience target the exact right person at the exact right moment, but if you reach them with a terrible piece of creative, with something that doesn’t break through the clutter, it’s all for naught,” said Josh Feldman, head of creative partnerships, in a press briefing this morning.

The network is expanding its ad offerings, including shoppable ads, which it rolled out during the French Open at the end of last month. In addition, NBCUniversal is experimenting with an offering called “picture-in-picture 2.0” that would include the audience interacting with elements on the screen as the commercial plays, as well as playing sounds that would fit the NBCU programming as a commercial is introduced.

AdSmart Context, which is expected to launch in Q4, is another step in this direction, Feldman said. AI is scanning 25,000 shows, movies and closed captioning, then assigning keywords and sentiments to that content. The library now includes almost 15,000 scripts.

For example, an episode of Modern Family (which airs in syndication on USA) in which the characters are driving could be tagged with words like “driving,” “accidents,” “insurance” and “funny.” NBCU would ask brands to give them the keywords they want to advertise next to. Then, a State Farm ad could (theoretically) be placed right after that segment to contextually align with the programming. “It really becomes a more effective environment for them to advertise in,” Feldman said.

In March, NBCUniversal announced that it would change the name of its audience targeting platform from Audience Studio to AdSmart in order to align with the Sky brand, a platform that retained the name.

Feldman also fielded a couple questions at the briefing about his company’s upcoming streaming service, but he made sure to note that it wasn’t his team’s mission here in the south of France.

“We’re getting a lot of questions about it, but the focus of Cannes is not the streaming service,” Feldman said.

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@SaraJerde sara.jerde@adweek.com Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.