NBCU and Verizon Add AR Elements to Bring Back Classic Balloons to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Network's Thursday lineup should rake in more than $117 million in ad revenue

One of the 360 cameras will be attached to Tom Turkey, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade's lead float.
Peter Kramer/NBC

Thanksgiving is always one of the most lucrative days of the year for NBC, in large part because of its annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade broadcast. The Parade regularly draws one of the year’s biggest audiences for an entertainment program: last year’s telecast averaged 24.1 million viewers, the third highest ever, and a 6.4 rating in the adults 18-49 demo.

With all of those eyeballs tuned in, the Parade is also a mecca for brands looking to reach consumers just ahead of Black Friday sales—which have also crept into Thanksgiving. That includes Verizon, which has extended its partnership with NBCUniversal and Macy’s to offer a 360-degree livestream of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for the third straight year.

This year’s livestream—available beginning at 9 a.m. ET on Verizon’s YouTube and Twitter pages, and for the first time, on Oath platforms Yahoo and AOL—will feature AR (augmented reality) elements that will add classic Parade balloons to this year’s lineup. The “Throwback Thanksgiving” AR will also showcase Parade trivia, as well as promotional activations and special offers from Verizon around Black Friday.

Verizon has placed 360 cameras around the parade route and attached a wireless camera to Tom Turkey, the Parade’s lead float.

After first introducing AR during its livestream of 2017’s Parade, Verizon wanted to up the ante this year. The “Throwback Thanksgiving” idea came from Verizon’s in-house agency, 140, and then the company worked with Macy’s to determine which balloons the retailer had the rights to and could be featured via AR, including Teddy Bear, Happy Hippo and Happy Dragon.

“We all have memories of sitting down with our families and watching the parade. It’s the Super Bowl of family viewing every year, where we all sit down together. The idea of having some throwback balloons is going to be a fun one,” said Mark Marshall, president, advertising sales and partnerships, NBCUniversal.

Last year, said Verizon’s chief media officer, John Nitti, more than 9 million people livestreamed the parade—five times more than in its 2016 debut—and watched for an average of more than 7 minutes each.

The livestream, meant to be a companion experience to the live broadcast, will be hosted by BuzzFeed’s Keith Habersberger, returning from last year, and E!’s Zuri Hall.

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.

For Verizon the main benefit of its Parade presence “is to reward our customers,” said Nitti. They can access Thanksgiving and Black Friday offers during the livestream, and 50 VerizonUp customers won tickets to watch the Parade in-person.

NBC’s $117.7 million Thanksgiving bounty

NBC’s ad inventory is once again sold out for the Parade, which “has continued to get bigger and bigger for us,” alongside other major holiday broadcasts like its Christmas in Rockefeller Center tree lighting, said Marshall. “More and more people are trying to get around these big events. There’s not a lot of other places you can get this kind of reach leading into this important season.”

The network averaged 24.1 million viewers and a 6.4 demo rating for last year’s Parade, (the third highest-rated behind 2016 and 2013 parades), and estimated that 43 million watched at least part of the telecast.

Whereas the Parade was once “just part of the marketing mix” for advertisers, its importance has increased as the many Black Friday deals now begin on Thursday, said Marshall. “Now, many people are using it as the kickoff and linchpin to their marketing messaging through the season.”

That includes Verizon. During Thanksgiving week, “everybody is trying to get out earlier,” said Nitti. “We’ve always believed in winning early, in going out and having the most impact.”

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