Comcast to Tap Set-Top Data for Advanced Advertising Service

NBCU+ Powered by Comcast ‘open for business’

NBCUniversal on Thursday unveiled “NBCU+ Powered By Comcast,” a platform designed to sell targeted ads to video-on-demand users while offering clients insights culled from anonymized subscriber set-top box data.

The media conglomerate said the new service would help optimize national campaigns across the NBCU linear TV portfolio by providing greater insights into viewer usage patterns. Naturally, the $64,000 question is, will Comcast’s 21.7 million video subscribers worry about their data being tapped?

While Comcast’s terms of service don’t appear to have changed recently, it’s not entirely clear if the company is obligated to do so. The question of whether the consumer or the cable operator owns user data is an open one.

Andrew Ward, group vp, Comcast Media 360, told Adweek in an interview that the company was aware of concerns around consumer privacy in the data-driven ad tech market. He emphasized Comcast's internal structures around personal data, as well: "We only use data in an anonymzed, unidentifiable way," Ward said. "We developed a set of guidelines and a short opt-out policy for subscribers, should they choose not to participate in this marketing strategy." The cross-referenced data—information about purchasing habits, for example, doesn't come from Comcast and "is commonly available, deidentified and aggregated."

Comcast sent out a billing message saying they'd be changing using customer data to deliver ads in "new and customized” ways and offering an easy opt-out (you can look at the official language and also opt out here, if you're a Comcast subscriber).

In any case, NBCU+ is the sort of product that third-party ad analytics platforms have been trying to develop for years, although none have access to the wealth of data available to Comcast and NBCU. (It’s worth noting that those developers have been reluctant to disclose the identities of their MSO partners.) 

“We’re going to match anonymized Comcast subscriber data with movie ticket purchases and loyalty card buying,” among other sources of purchaser data, said Linda Yaccarino, president, ad sales at NBCU. “It’s ready. We’re open for business.” 

Privacy will always be an issue, even with anonymized data, but clients and media buyers are bound to support the initiative as the advantages of harvesting consumer data are undeniable. The question, until recently, has been whether clients or networks would foot the bill for these sophisticated data and targeting programs. With the NBCU+ effort, Comcast clearly has shouldered that burden.

Ward said that in the case of third-party data (those aforementioned movie tickets and loyalty cards), “our philosophy is to be data-source agnostic. We want to approach the market in that fashion. In the auto space, it might be car registration data through Polk.”

If a client is looking for even more granular insights, NBCU+ will tap the services of “third-party matching agents such as Acxiom and Experian,” Ward said. “We have the ability to call back household-level ad exposure.”

“The amount of inventory available for this product will be determined by advertiser interest and demand,” Yaccarino said. “Our goal is to keep on sophisticating the product.” The other component will be addressable advertising on VOD—non-skippable ads targeted directly to a given household based, again, on that anonymized research. While that wrinkle hasn’t been priced yet, it’s bound to be attractive to advertisers looking for more revealing metrics than the same-old, same-old of age and sex.

“If I’m an advertiser, my national ad in The Blacklist is going to be more sophisticated,” Yaccarino said. “You’ve got a more optimized buy on the national side and then you’re threading a much smaller needle on the VOD side.”

And the NBCU+ product will also give the company bragging rights on the no-longer-nebulous ROI side. “The other beauty of this product is after-the-fact data—if you’re a movie studio, or CPG, or whatever, we’re able to say ‘I helped you sell more stuff,’” Yaccarino said.