NBCU’s Linda Yaccarino Gathers Top Industry Execs to Help ‘Fix … the Ad-Supported Ecosystem’

‘People are running from advertising in droves,’ said NBC chief Robert Greenblatt

Linda Yaccarino suggested that NBCUniversal could reduce its ad load "across the board." NBCUniversal
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It takes a lot to assemble the biggest ad sales execs, buyers, agency heads, CEOs and digital/technology chiefs in one room, but NBCUniversal ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino was able to wrangle them this morning as she attempted to fix some of the industry’s biggest problems.

“We have a problem. It’s why you all showed up,” said Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships for NBCUniversal, noting the need to band together “for the greater good of the industry.” Otherwise, in 10 years, everyone might find that “the ad-supported ecosystem has ceased to exist.” The execs in attendance, she said, need to “come together and build the metrics that our industry needs,” and create a “fair, equal and transparent market that holds all platforms to the same collective standard.”

The issue was serious enough to attract many top execs to New York’s The Pool, including several members of this year’s Adweek 50 (among them, Fox Networks Group ad sales chief Joe Marchese, Turner ad sales chief Donna Speciale and Facebook vp of global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson), Viacom CEO Bob Bakish, GroupM president of investment Lyle Schwartz, Twitter COO Anthony Noto, Turner president David Levy, Snap, Inc.’s vp and global head of sales Jeff Lucas and GE CMO Linda Boff.

Yaccarino challenged attendees to write down one thing they or their company can do to “fix this mess that we’re in.” NBCUniversal, she said, was committed to making television “smarter,” making marketing more effective, improving the experience for consumers and “weaning ourselves off of the single-currency metric”—i.e., Nielsen. “And who knows, we might even reduce commercial load across the board.”

While Yaccarino said she hoped the summit would provide “a meaningful plan for action and follow,” the four panels that followed her remarks—which covered topics like measurement, connecting with consumers in a multiplatform world and the importance of brand building—didn’t yield much in the way of specifics or guidance for how the various attendees could band together to create such a plan.

Still, the panelists agreed that the industry needs to change, rapidly, in response to viewers’ new habits. “The consumers hate advertising in my world. … To me, that’s the issue of the moment. We live by advertising,” said NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt. “People are running away from advertising in droves … We have to figure out ways to make those interruptions a lot more palatable.”

Greenblatt said that broadcast TV is “a real healthy business” is long as networks are able to monetize all the ways that audiences are watching the content, which isn’t happening yet. Greenblatt pointed to the TJ Maxx partnership with his hit drama This Is Us, where Season 1’s ads were shot in the style of the drama and were more engaging to viewers. “You almost still felt like you were in the show,” he said.

“If we can make advertising feel more like content,” consumers are more accepting of the messaging, agreed Brian Lesser, CEO of AT&T advertising and analytics.

As the industry struggles with all these changes, “consumers are less confused than we are,” said Tara Walpert Levy, vp of agency and media solutions, Google. “They don’t care which platform they are watching on.” She said that despite Greenblatt’s comments about people not liking ads, “there’s success to be had in advertising,” noting that of YouTube’s most popular videos each year, at least some of them come from brands.

“Consumers don’t hate advertising, consumers hate bad advertising,” just like they dislike any kind of bad content, said Jonah Goodhart, CEO and co-founder, Moat.

Fox’s Marchese noted that “we have two futures ahead of us: either brands become the most important thing, or brands became not valuable at all. … Brands can’t be built without attention.” He added later, “brands matter more in a post-search world, brands matter more in a voice search world.”

Bob Rupczynski, global vp, media and customer relationship management for McDonald’s, talked about the need to “simplify” the process for brands. “We can’t live with 57 different ways” of monetizing and valuing TV and digital platforms, he said. For McDonald’s, the true value of an ad buy is getting people to come into the restaurant, and he wants to be able to measure which ads and which platforms deliver on that.

One of the big elephants in the room—the tensions between advertising on linear companies like NBCUniversal and digital companies like Facebook and Google—was addressed only briefly. Facebook’s vp of global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson, who was not a panelist but spoke up during the event, said that “you can’t have one standard across every viewing experience” for crossplatform buys, adding, “we’ve very aligned with Twitter and Google on this.”

Similarly, Nielsen was only addressed sporadically, most notably when Brian Wieser, senior research analyst for Pivotal Research said the company “does the least bad job” when it comes to data. Nielsen’s global president of watch, Megan Clarken, was in attendance, but was not a part of the four panels.

Meanwhile, there is even more industry transformation on the horizon. “The era of AI will fundamentally change our profession,” said IBM CMO Michelle Peluso, who later noted, “I think Blockchain is going to fundamentally transform how we think about media buying.”

As the event wrapped up, Yaccarino said one important takeaway was that “I don’t think all of us in this room put the consumer first. We have an obligation to make it easier for our marketers, but respect the consumer, to get them the content that they want” and serve them “the ads that they need or they’re interested in.”

Last month, Yaccarino talked with Adweek about the need to shake up the industry’s legacy approach to measurement and monetization. One solution, she said at the time, was if the biggest media companies “came together and said, ‘Dammit, we’re not going to take it anymore. We act with discipline, we act with integrity, and we have the premium content to distribute widely, and this is the way we’re doing it,’ all of that stuff is going to stop, and has to stop.’ Otherwise, we can’t bring the industry forward, because the basis of everything is mistrust in the relationship.”

She added, “I think you’re going to see a really big disruption in that area, and a coming of age.”

It remains to be seen whether today’s summit is the first step on that path, or whether the industry will need to regroup and seek a different way forward.

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