NBCU Will Air 10% Fewer Ads in Its Prime-Time Original Shows This Fall

Linda Yaccarino to roll out several new ad formats during the upfront

NBCUniversal shows like This Is Us will feature shorter ad pods, and fewer spots overall, starting this fall. Ron Batzdorff/NBC
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NBCUniversal is making the industry’s biggest commitment yet to reducing linear ad loads, announcing today that audiences will see 10 percent fewer ads during all prime-time original shows across its entire platform, beginning this fall.

The company will be instituting a number of ad innovations—including reducing prime-time ad pods by 20 percent, create a 60-second pod of audience-targeted advertising in each prime-time original show and rolling out several new ad formats—that it will begin to discuss with clients during the upcoming upfront conversations.

The reduction in ad time and ad-pod lengths will apply to all 50-plus prime-time original shows across NBCU’s portfolio, which includes NBC, USA, Bravo, E!, Telemundo, CNBC and Oxygen.

“We know that the live, linear viewing experience needs to change. We are serving a consumer who has come to expect fewer ads, and more relevant ads,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships for NBCUniversal.

As ad loads in the prime-time original shows are trimmed by 20 percent, either the first or last break of each episode will be turned into a Prime Pod: a 60-second pod, available to one or two advertisers, that will use artificial intelligence-based context targeting, that incorporates scripts and closed captioning to make a brand relevant.

Prime Pod will be an audience-targeted product, separate from a traditional ad buy. “This makes available the best of both worlds: data-driven contextual placement next to content that really matters,” said Yaccarino. “Think about this as an emotional algorithm.”

NBCU could eventually extend Prime Pod to other shows and dayparts, “but for right now, we wanted to focus on the daypart that matters most to our advertisers, and that’s the original premium content,” said Yaccarino.

Yaccarino said her team has been working for two years on this, and this was the change she hinted at during the industry summit she organized last November to help fix the ad-supported ecosystem. “We said we were going to take a few big swings this year, and this is the first,” she said.

At the same time, NBCUniversal is rolling out several new ad formats in third or fourth quarter, all of which will also be discussed during the upfront. As her team shrunk the number of ads in prime time, “we knew we had to do more than the Prime Pod to give enhanced opportunities to our advertisers,” said Yaccarino, who will be introducing these new ad formats:

  • Prime-time bridge: NBCU is creating a new ad position to run one advertiser’s brand message as a transition from one show to the next. For example, a spot would run between The Voice and This Is Us on NBC, or bridging two consecutive episodes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians on E! The length of that spot could vary, depending on the client.
  • Scripted commercial launch: This format will transition from an in-show moment to a commercial. For example, Yaccarino explained, a character on Suits could walk into a coffee shop, grab a drink and take a sip, which would lead into an ad for that same product.
  • Interactive picture-in-picture: An evolution of the current picture-in-picture, split-screen format that is most commonly seen during sporting events. In this version, the ad that is part of the split-screen will feature a character from the event interacting with the product or brand being advertised.
  • Social commercial: NBCU has been quietly testing this product, which will offer the ability for a brand to integrate actual social commentary from fans into commercials that air during that same episode. “We’ll work closely with clients and their social agencies in real-time to pull this off,” said Yaccarino.
  • Show within a show: This would replace a traditional commercial pod with branded content that is connected to the show. For example, The Voice could feature a pod, sponsored by a brand, which visits a previous season’s winner and chronicles their journey since the show ended. “So the viewer is getting more value, and it benefits the brand,” says Yaccarino.

NBCU will begin conversations with marketers in the upfront about all their new innovations. By reducing clutter and introducing new formats, “we wanted to make television better, and make television smarter,” said Yaccarino.

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