NBCU and Verizon Add AR and a Spot Thanking First Responders to Thanksgiving Parade Partnership

'Super Bowl of family viewing’ draws nearly 25 million viewers

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade livestream on YouTube will feature augmented reality Easter eggs with Black Friday offers. NBCUniversal
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Verizon and NBCUniversal are teaming up again this year to livestream the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, in a partnership that also includes several new activations during the NBC telecast.

Last year was the first time Verizon offered a 360-degree livestream of the parade on its YouTube page. This time around, Verizon has added a traveling camera on the lead parade float as well as augmented-reality Easter eggs through which users will be able to redeem Verizon’s Black Friday offers. And Verizon is also producing a 60-second spot during the broadcast to thank first responders, while sponsoring a picture-in-picture activation during which ads will run side by side with live parade footage during select ad pods.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of the year’s most-watched entertainment telecasts each year. Last year, 24.6 million viewers tuned in to the parade, which had a 6.8 rating in the 18-49 demo, making it the most-viewed nonsports broadcast telecast in nine months.

NBC said 45.3 million viewers watched some of the 2016 telecast, which brought in an estimated $41.8 million in ad revenue, according to Kantar Media.

The Thanksgiving Day Parade is “the Super Bowl of family viewing,” said Mark Marshall, evp, entertainment advertising sales, NBCUniversal. “It’s this nirvana for a marketer. [The audience is] engaged, it’s affluent, it’s multicultural, multigenerational … which also happens to be right before the busiest shopping day of the entire year. It’s an underappreciated, unbelievable asset that continues to grow.”

That’s why Verizon is now such a part of the parade. As a retailer, the Black Friday-through-Cyber Monday shopping period “is extremely critical to us,” said Verizon chief media officer John Nitti, who said Verizon jumped at the opportunity to have viewers “spend more time with our brand that morning” and get an early look at its Black Friday offers. “With the growth of ecommerce and digital connection points, our door front is always open.”

The livestream will be hosted by actress Olivia Culpo, returning from last year, and BuzzFeed’s Keith Habersberger. The livestream “is never meant to replace the live broadcast; it’s meant to be a companion experience,” said Nitti, who noted that last year, users spent an average of seven and a half minutes with the livestream.

This year’s livestream will be enhanced with augmented reality Easter eggs, which will include fun facts about the Parade and enable users to redeem Verizon’s Black Friday offers. “Verizon is a great partner, and also takes us out of our comfort level sometimes and continues to push us to what’s next,” said Marshall. “I think this idea of Easter eggs being around and having this call to action is something new and different, and helps the Verizon messaging that they wanted to get out there.”

Here is an early glimpse at what those AR Easter eggs will look like during the livestream:

Verizon will also have a major presence during the NBC broadcast, as one of the sponsors for the first picture-in-picture experience in Thanksgiving Day Parade history. Picture in picture, which will occur in a “few” of the parade ad pods, “adds great value for the advertiser, it adds great value for the consumer and in these big live events in entertainment, you’re going to see us doing more and more of these, where it makes sense,” said Marshall, noting that NBCU has incorporated picture in picture ads during last December’s Hairspray Live!, as well as The Voice and USA’s WWE. “The brand recall goes up, the message recall goes up, the ratings go up. So it was a win-win for everyone.”

This year, Verizon and its agency McCann produced a 60-second spot—running in a dedicated pod in NBC’s broadcast—thanking first responders for giving up their holiday to keep people safe. “We’ve been there side by side with them through a ton of the national disasters that have happened this year, making sure they’re connected and they’re able to do their jobs,” said Nitti. “While everybody is home with their family, there’s a whole cast of people that are out there protecting us, and we’re thanking them for that.”

In addition to the Verizon spot, this year’s parade will feature a dozen new advertisers, said Marshall, including some from the technology category who haven’t participated before.

NBCUniversal is tapping its digital partners BuzzFeed, Vox Media and Apple News to help drive viewers to the Verizon livestream: BuzzFeed will have a homepage takeover and additional promos for the Verizon YouTube page, Apple News users can set up a reminder to watch the livestream and ad units will run across Concert, which is NBCUniversal and Vox Media’s cross-platform, premium digital advertising inventory tool.

“This gets the full support of the company,” said Marshall. “As much as we can expand that audience and drive as many eyeballs into it, the more we and our advertisers win.”

The Comcast-owned NBCUniversal and Verizon partnership for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade comes as both companies have reportedly been in talks to acquire 21st Century Fox. Execs had no comment on those reports, but Nitti noted, “this is purely a marketing and media partnership” between NBCU and Verizon.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.