Even though his company NBCUniversal was hosting this morning’s forum about advertising, measurement and the current state of the TV and digital video business, NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt didn’t mince words.
“Consumers hate advertising,” he said. “People are running away from advertising in droves, and so that, to me, is the crux of the problem. How do we stop that from happening?” After stipulating that programming, not advertising, is his main purview, Greenblatt voiced the anxiety shared by many in the traditional TV sector. “We have to figure out a ways to make those interruptions a lot more palatable, a lot more entertaining, a lot more relational, or they’re going to keep going. And going and going and going.”
The two-hour mini-conference, held in the former Four Seasons Restaurant (now called Pool) in the Seagram Building, drew a cross-section of network, tech and advertising executives. Speakers on four panel sessions came from the likes of Fox, YouTube, Twitter, Y&R, MasterCard, McDonald’s, IBM and the NHL. The overall discussion yielded more bullet-point messages than genuine sparks as brands, agencies and programmers took up the existential question of where exactly the 80-year-old medium of television is headed.
Despite his angst about ads, Greenblatt said “things are going relatively well” in the broadcast TV business. “Live viewing isn’t what it used to be,” he admitted, but he cited encouraging innovations such as a TJ Maxx ad campaign that not only airs during This Is Us but is shot with an aesthetic that matches the show’s.
Brian Lesser, recently appointed as CEO of AT&T’s new advertising and analytics unit, addressed Topic A in the media business: his company’s pending acquisition of Time Warner, which has been sidetracked by a government lawsuit. “There are multiple models” for a new way of cracking the code on how to lure viewers and optimize advertising, he said, but a combined AT&T-Time Warner “is a pretty good one.”
Brian Wieser, an analyst with Pivotal Research, expressed skepticism about the U.S. Department of Justice legal claim that an AT&T-Time Warner merger would hurt consumers and hike their cable TV bills. Asked by moderator Andrew Ross Sorkin of CNBC whether a combined company would be equipped to challenge the advertising supremacy of Google and Facebook, Wieser said, “Short answer: no. Not if they’re competing on data.”
Jonah Goodhart, CEO and co-founder of online ad specialist Moat, took issue with Greenblatt’s view that consumers dislike advertising. “Consumers hate bad advertising,” he said. “Branding and content to me are the same thing.” Movie trailers, emotional spots and storytelling, he said, are driving toward the same business outcome as programming, he contended.
NBCU ad chief Linda Yaccarino, who spoke at the beginning and end of the forum, closed by saying, “I didn’t agree with everything that was said up here … which is good!”