NBCU Sales Chief Shares Her Strategy for Upfront Negotiations

Why Linda Yaccarino can't stop talking about data

For the next several weeks, Linda Yaccarino will be one of the hardest working people in television. As chairman, advertising sales and client partnerships for NBCUniversal, she's overseeing upfront negotiations for a robust TV portfolio that includes two broadcast networks, 17 cable channels and more than 50 digital properties.

"It's a world of difference from three years ago when we first had this crazy notion of bringing the company together as one portfolio," said Yaccarino, who joined the network in 2011 as president, cable entertainment and digital advertising sales (she previously oversaw sales for Turner Entertainment as evp and COO), adding NBC and Telemundo a year later.

Before ramping up her upfront negotiations, Yaccarino talked about plans for next season, her company's big swings and of course, the d-word.

Data was the buzzword of the upfronts, but is that continuing during sales meetings?

All day long! It's the lead question I get asked from all our customers: "What are you up to, what are you doing, what's next?" Data and technology will change the advertising business in the next five years more than we've seen in the last 30 years. NBCUniversal has such scale, but is owned by a company like Comcast that has such technology and a direct relationship with consumers. When we bring all these things together, that will benefit our advertising clients, and that's what truly consumes most of my days.

You rolled out ATP, your audience targeting platform, in January. How will you use it during the upfront?

This is the latest in our suite of data products. We knew we wanted to refine the media plans that we have and reduce waste. It reduces waste for us because we get better at managing our inventory, and it reduces waste or enhances what the advertiser is getting based on their deliverables, whatever their RFP says, or their brand briefs. As I like to explain it, it's giving you last year's media plan, but in the nonfat version.

C7 was all the rage during last year's upfronts. Are people still talking about that this year, or have priorities shifted?

I don't think priorities have shifted, but clients have many different priorities. So while C7 is important to some people, and NBCUniversal is open for business for C7, our data conversations have taken us in a whole new direction. To supplement the current currency that exists, we talk about a bunch of different other deliverables based on the merged data sets. It's really not about the C7 versus the C3 of it all. C7 is an incremental step in the right direction, but the problem is that the total audience remains unmeasured, and our company projects that can be anywhere from 12 [percent] to 30 percent.

We have upfronts and NewFronts now. Do you see a day where it's all combined into one?

I even went to something called the People Front! I do believe the upfront will morph as time goes by. It's all based on customer demand and interest, and we'll keep talking about that as the marketplace evolves.

You're entering talks with NBC No. 1 in adults 18-49 for the second season in a row. But without the Super Bowl, have you lost some of the leverage you had this time last year?

I wouldn't worry so much about that because we exchange one day of the Super Bowl with 17 days of the [2016] Summer Olympics. As [NBC Entertainment chairman] Bob Greenblatt said, we have a very specific, strategically designed schedule, so we'll take what will likely be the most-viewed event in television history and make that a centerpiece of a bunch of great programming that we're confident about.

What are your other heavy hitters for upfronts?