Covid-19 Uncertainty Is Prolonging Upfront Talks, Says Linda Yaccarino

Instead of haggling over dayparts and GRPs, industry should focus on 'getting the economy going'

"We can't possibly redo an upfront the same way we've done it since 1962," said Linda Yaccarino.
Adweek

Key insight:

Each year, Comcast uses its second quarter earnings call to update investors about NBCUniversal’s recently completed upfront negotiations. But that tradition will end Thursday morning, when Comcast execs present the company’s most recent quarterly earnings.

That’s because this year’s talks are far from done, due to Covid-19. The continued economic upheaval stemming from the pandemic has led to a staggered upfront marketplace, with some marketers instead opting to transact on a calendar upfront.

However, even those brands negotiating in the usual broadcast upfront timeframe have yet to lock in their commitments, as pandemic uncertainty has led to “a protraction” in negotiations, Linda Yaccarino, chairman of NBCU advertising and partnerships, said Wednesday in her conversation with this writer at Adweek’s NexTech 2020 Virtual Summit.

As Adweek reported earlier this month, upfront negotiations had been in a “holding pattern” as Covid-19 cases began to surge, with buyers and networks far apart on pricing. Of course, “that’s the same every upfront: Buyers want lower, sellers want higher,” Yaccarino conceded.

That said, “the marketplace is active. I think what is creating a challenging environment for us all is really the uncertainty. When you talk about the rise in cases, the opening up of businesses or not, there’s still some businesses” with lots of uncertainty, including the travel and theatrical categories, Yaccarino said. “So the reality is the uncertainty has caused what I would just call a protraction in conversations, because we really want to get clarity on the marketplace.”

While NBCUniversal still has a long way to go before it wraps its upfront, “the good news is that I feel a lot better about the marketplace than I did three months ago, than I did three weeks ago, than I really even did a week ago,” Yaccarino said. “The market has stabilized. The scatter market has been very healthy. And everyone now has a renewed enthusiasm to talk about the future. That’s a big thing.”

Yaccarino hopes it will be an even bigger thing, given her call last month for “radical transformation” in the industry, in a note sent to clients, agency and tech partners.

"Let's stop arguing over dayparts and networks and GRPs, and let's talk about getting the economy going.”
Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising and partnerships, NBCUniversal

The Covid-19 upheaval and the nationwide protests against racism and police brutality have led to “foundational changes in our businesses. We can’t possibly redo an upfront the same way we’ve done it since 1962, when it first started,” she said. “The marketing community has actually a great opportunity and a really big call to service.”

Marketers have an essential role in the country’s economic recovery, she explained: “They build demand; demand leads to sales, which leads to jobs, which means we get the economy back on track. So let’s stop arguing over dayparts and networks and GRPs,  and let’s talk about getting the economy going.”

As for what needs to happen to bring about that “radical transformation,” Yaccarino said she is advocating for “an open marketplace driven by workforce development.” For starters, she would like to remove the requirement for a four-year college degree at many companies.

“We can make a commitment to up-skill and train people to join us. That’s how you’re going to make a difference,” she said.

In other NBCU upfront news, Yaccarino—who also discussed Peacock’s launch during her NexTech appearance—said she’s not yet sure how the company will top NBCU’s 30 Rock reunion/upfront hybrid presentation in 2021.

“Who knows what the upfronts in May at Radio City will become?” Yaccarino said. “The upfront for NBC Universal is now changed forever, and who the heck knows: Maybe we take the upfront to BravoCon next year.”

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