NBCUniversal and Vox Team Up to Sell Cross-Platform, Premium Digital Advertising

First partnership since NBCU’s $200 million investment last year

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NBCUniversal is finally ready to start seeing some big returns on its $200 million investment in Vox Media. The two companies are teaming up to sell premium advertising across all of their combined digital properties with a new inventory tool called Concert.

The partnership will offer "premium, safe environments" for advertisers, according to Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversal's chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships, across Vox Media's eight properties and NBCUniversal's digital properties. The companies said that represents a combined audience of more than 150 million people, according to ComScore data.

It's the first sales partnership between the two companies since NBCUniversal invested $200 million in Vox Media last August.

Concert "was at the top of the list" as the companies began to discuss how they could work together, said Jim Bankoff, chairman and CEO of Vox Media. "[The digital space] hasn't always been the best medium for advertisers that had brand-building objectives," said Bankoff. While direct-response and targeting have been successful, the digital space has struggled with "awareness creation, identity creation, brand building—the kind of things that television and magazines have been good at, creating that experience and telling marketers' stories."

The partnership—which covers digital advertising including branded content, native ads, video, text and photo elements—will help address advertisers' concerns about viewability and fraud in digital advertising. "That might be OK if you're just trying to sell something, but if you're trying to create an image or build a brand, context does matter, as does the creative strategy," Bankoff said.

NBCUniversal, meanwhile, gets access to Vox Media's younger, digital audience, which is one of the reasons it made such a huge investment last summer. 

"When you combine their reach with our reach and our capabilities, we think it's a game changer for digital advertising in that now marketers who are looking to build brand can take advantage of the capabilities but can have beautiful advertising that performs well for them that doesn't irritate—and actually delights—the audience in a way that a great television or magazine ad would, and gets their attention without annoying the audience and performs quickly and well and all that great stuff," said Bankoff. "We think that's pretty distinct on the digital landscape, doing it at scale."

Yaccarino said Concert, which is open for business, will be a component of both companies' upfront conversations. If clients want to utilize Concert, they can work with whichever company they prefer.

"It's one conversation that the advertiser needs to have," said Yaccarino. "It doesn't matter if it's a conversation that comes through the Vox front door or through the NBCU front door."  While a portion of Vox Media's ad sales team will be focused exclusively on Concert, Yaccarino said her entire team will be able to work on both Concert and NBCU-specific business. 

NBCU's clients currently can also choose whether to continue making buys just on the company's platforms or to add Vox via Concert. "All the inventory is available to everyone," Yaccarino said. "So this is really about two companies that have an incredible amount of premium content that are coming together to extend our collective reach and offer one-stop shopping to our customers to reach the biggest audiences that we can."

Bankoff said testing indicates Concert's data product capability and real-time creative optimizations offer "upwards of 12 times the performance rate on standard metrics, whether it's viewability or clickthrough, that you would otherwise see in a more standard IAB advertising."

"So we think we've created something special here where because it works for the audience, it works for the marketer as well," he said. "And so we're excited to scale it up."

Vox also hopes Concert will help enhance its future multiplatform expansion. "I think advertising is a big part of that mix and marketers will be able to travel across platform with us," said Bankoff.

In February, NBCUniversal launched a sales partnership with the other digital powerhouse partner it invested $200 million in last summer: Buzzfeed. The two companies teamed with American Express for a Leap Day partnership in which NBC replaced 30 minutes of national ad spots during prime time with sponsored content.

As Concert continues to grow, it could encompass future co-development and branded content initiatives that NBCUniversal pursues with both Buzzfeed and Vox. "They are separate from what the Concert tool is, but in fact, that content will likely end up being accessible through Concert," 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.