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This is what advertising transformation looks like, says NBCU as it outlines its 2019 roadmap

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Linda Yaccarino, Chairman, Advertising and Client Partnerships at NBC Universal, has been outlining the company’s change vision for the year ahead, and re-iterating her determination that one of the world’s most important media companies will not settle for the status-quo and intends to ‘set the new standard’ for what ad-supported TV means for both consumers and marketers.

In terms of viewer experience, NBCU has enjoyed success with its Prime Pods, where the first or last ad break in a show is reduced to 60-seconds of national advertising and shared between two sponsors, with a strong focus on matching the advertiser to the context of the programming. This is part of a wider effort to reduce ad load and clutter (the company is famously reducing total advertising time by 10% and ads-per-break by 20% in original primetime programming).

The Prime Pods represent a major commercial innovation across the NBCU networks and have resulted in higher likeability, brand recall and conversions, the company reports. Prime Pods are going to expand across the NBCU portfolio during 2019.

The broadcaster has just launched its Contextual Intelligence platform, which uses machine learning and proprietary emotional algorithms to find contextual alignment between an advertisement and programme content. For the advertising creative, the company receives a client brief and then performs a video inspection to get the context. This creates a ‘context module’ for the advertisement.

Context modules are also created for each show, harnessing closed-captioning, scripts data and other data sets that NBCU holds on its upcoming programming. The context modules are then ‘run against each other’ for analysis.

The AI platform finds good matches and NBCU then traffics the client creative to an ad position that follows the relevant programme scenes. The company reports that when content and ads are positively aligned, likeability, recall and brand awareness are all improved.

Contextual Intelligence is viewed as phase two of NBCU’s data-enabled advanced advertising journey, with phase one being the use of data to align media buys – especially linear TV buys – with strategic audience targets. “Now, we’re adding content- and sentiment-based contextual alignment as a core data capability,” Yaccarino said in an end-of-year update recently.

Contextual Intelligence will be used for linear TV placements across the NBCU broadcast and cable TV portfolio. “We’ll make ad placement smarter, more targeted and more relevant by pioneering ‘Contextual Intelligence’,” the company says.

[Channel 4 is also pursuing the use of machine learning to create what it calls ‘contextual moments’ that better match programming to advertising, as you can read here.]

NBCU is also focused on measurement and metrics as part of its change agenda. CFlight is the cross-platform measurement solution the company created to, in its own words, “finally show how real people consume our content across all screens”. Yaccarino says: “For too long, we have been tied to traditional metrics. We will continue setting the new standard in measurement.”

CFlight will be scaled across the entire NBCU portfolio and, alongside this, the company is moving to create outcome-based measurement. “Marketers deserve to base their decisions on business results, but ratings don’t even come close,” Yaccarino comments.

NBCU is going to continue its push into digital. In 2018 it deepened its digital partnerships with Apple, Buzzfeed, Snapchat and Vox. There is a determination to prove that digital advertising can be both safe and a valuable experience for people and marketers.

NBCU has been accelerating its transformation to what ad-supported TV needs to become, as a medium, in a data-driven and hyper competitive marketing environment. The arrival of NBCU on the OpenAP platform (with the media company licensing its technology to the collaborative multi-broadcaster venture) marks an important expansion for what is one of the most important linear TV advertising initiatives on earth.

This year the company has evolved its organisational structure around mass reach and targeted audiences, strengthened its creative capabilities and launched an ROI programme for direct-to-consumer businesses (D2C brands). It has also doubled its investment in technology, with a focus on automation.

The company is determined to build on TV values like quality, transparency and safety and the call from Yaccarino to “go even further and set new standards” across measurement, metrics, relevance, viewer experience and digital will require more collaboration, it is acknowledged. The broadcaster talks of liberating itself from legacy processes and moving towards a system that accurately reflects consumer behaviour and client needs. “This is what transformation looks like,” Yaccarino says of both the initiatives and the mindset that NBCU is adopting.

Linda Yaccarino is speaking at Future TV Advertising Forum next week.


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