NBCUniversal Touts Early Prime Pods Performance as It Prepares to Double Down on the Format

It will soon expand to other dayparts, but the name won’t change

This month, NBCU will begin moving the prime pod toward the end of some reality competition shows like The Voice. Trae Patton/NBC
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NBCUniversal says its fledgling “prime pod” premium ad format is delivering the engagement lifts it had promised, and the company is preparing to expand it to other dayparts and potentially add more of them to its prime-time originals.

After declaring at the start of the season that brands would get the retention boost they paid a hefty premium for during the upfront, NBCUniversal worked with researchers during the fourth quarter to determine whether the prime pods were indeed driving increased viewer engagement and greater impact for brands. Laura Molen and Mark Marshall, presidents for NBCUniversal advertising sales and partnerships, shared their findings with Adweek and talked about their upcoming plans for the format.

Just over a year ago, NBCUniversal unveiled its initiative to reduce ads by 10 percent, beginning last fall, on the 50-plus NBCU prime-time original series across its entire broadcast and cable portfolio. Those plans included its lucrative new prime pod format: a 60-second pod of audience-targeted advertising, usually in the first break of those same prime-time original series.

The company doubled down on its ad reduction efforts in January, announcing plans to cut prime-time ad loads another 10 percent by 2020, as well as an expansion of prime pods in prime time as well as another dayparts, like the Today show and late night.

Despite early sticker shock during last year’s upfronts, NBCU ultimately sold the format at a 75 percent premium above the average cost of an ad in each show, according to a source close to negotiations. The company sold 80 percent of its prime pod inventory in the upfront (including all of the season’s available prime pod inventory for USA and Syfy’s shows), leaving 20 percent for the scatter market.

The company’s quantitative prime pod study in the fourth quarter, with Ameritest, found hefty KPI lifts for prime pod ads compared to spots in traditional pods: program favorability increased 28 percent, brand awareness jumped 27 percent, brand interest was up 25 percent and purchase intent increased 11 percent.

“Viewers are telling us that prime pods are the kind of commercial experiences that all commercial experiences should aspire to be, in being that they are more cohesive with the content, they are shorter formats, and so it really drove the key metrics,” said Molen, who noted that purchase intent was up nearly 30 percent in the key adults 18-34 demo. “They were very vocal in telling us, in all forms of research, that this is the way to do ads.”

In its search engagement study with EDO, NBCUniversal found that prime pods had a 12 percent lift in search engagement and was “over two times more impactful in terms of search results than traditional pods,” said Molen.

Research also found that the size of a brand’s logo and the length of time it appears onscreen drives recall of prime pod ads, and a prime pod containing new content from a brand increases recall and intent to purchase.

The in-season results are in line with NBCU’s early tests last year, which showed that prime pods led to a huge increase in consumer retention.

“We have created prime real estate, the Park Place of Monopoly, for marketers to showcase their greatest work,” said Molen. “And I think we’re just scratching the surface.”

Marshall has seen “strong” scatter demand for the remaining 20 percent of prime pod inventory this season, especially with movie studios and tech categories.

“We have created prime real estate, the Park Place of Monopoly, for marketers to showcase their greatest work. And I think we’re just scratching the surface.”
Laura Molen, president, NBCUniversal advertising sales and partnerships

Half a season in, NBCU is still experimenting with the best methods of letting viewers know that during prime pods, their program will resume in just 60 seconds, instead of the usual two or three minutes.

“It’s more genre-based, whereas the countdown clock seems to be working in our cable properties,” said Marshall. “If you look on the broadcast side of it, we’ve tested the ‘we’ll be back in one minute,’ which we use on NBC pretty consistently. And it does better in dramas as opposed to comedies.”

Beginning this month, the network will begin testing airing prime pods later in the telecast, starting with reality competition shows like The Voice, where “the viewership goes up towards the end of the show because people are waiting to see who gets eliminated. And that may be a perfect place for a prime pod, right before elimination,” said Molen.

In some tests, the prime pod will be moved toward the end of the episode; in others, a second prime pod will be added.

An second prime pod offering per episode would help meet buyer demand for NBCU’s most popular shows like This Is Us, where “everyone wants the same prime pods week after week to launch their new movie or their new product,” said Molen.

With the constant format tweaking, “we’re looking at ourselves much more like a technology company, where we’re beta-testing everything,” said Marshall. “The thoughts of the agencies, which were nervous at the beginning of this, was we were just going to roll it out, and it is going to be what it is. But that hasn’t been the case. We’re working and tweaking, not just on prime pods but across everything.”

NBCUniversal is also looking to expand the offering into other dayparts, though it will still be called “prime pods” even when it isn’t actually in prime-time. Molen said the Today Show, late night and E! News: Daily Pop are the most likely candidates for non-prime-time prime pods.

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