NBCUniversal devoted much of its two-hour upfront presentation at Radio City Music Halls to talent-driven razzle-dazzle.
Still, the company also managed to slip in some talking points, with execs contending the company is well-positioned in the M&A landscape and continues to enjoy advantages over digital rivals.
“If you look at the media business, there’s more change now than in many, many decades,” said Steve Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal. “Some companies are getting out of scripted programming. Other companies are getting out of business entirely. Some companies are trying to do whatever they can to get bigger. Others are tr to put together content to distribution. The good news is that at NBCUniversal we feel we already have the perfect set of assets to really thrive in this business.”
Burke, of course, brought up neither parent Comcast’s reported pursuit of a rival bid for 21st Century Fox assets currently ticketed for Disney, nor its bid for European pay-TV giant Sky.
“If you look at the digital landscape,” Burke added, “it’s also a time of unbelievable change. Digital companies are being accused of interfering with people’s privacy, being accused of false measurement. There’s just a lot of change in the landscape.”
Linda Yaccarino, who heads ad sales across NBCU’s linear and digital platforms, picked up on the digital themes during her presentation, which came about an hour and 45 minutes into the show. Before she came out onstage, a spoof video showed her “testifying” in Congress in a riff on recent testimony by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Traditional media companies have increasingly sought to exploit the vulnerability of Facebook, YouTube and other tech giants, which are increasing their share of the ad market but have encountered significant reliability issues.
While linear ratings continue to decline and the narrative around cord-cutting and disruption continues to loom large, Yaccarino said the issues are worse on the digital side. Several major advertisers have hit the pause button on digital spending lately due to questions about the policies at the major tech firms, whose platforms have occasionally allowed mainstream ads to appear next to offensive content. In the case of Facebook, it was the notion of the social network’s manipulation of user data which put the company — and Zuckerberg into the harsh glare of scrutiny.
You just heard me answer a lot of questions,” Yaccarino said, referring to the video, which intercut actual Congressional questions for Zuckerberg with her made-up responses. “Well, I am here today to answer the one question that’s on all of our minds: Where should I invest my marketing dollars to get the biggest possible impact?’ You know my answer. Nothing reaches people’s minds like television. Nothing reaches their hearts like television.”
She pointed to several of the key moments from the upfront show as proof points, including the audience response to the gold-medal-winning U.S. women’s Olympic hockey team. “When is the last time you’ve seen a standing ovation at an upfront?” she wondered. “We just blew the doors off Radio City and that was our intention. To give you a taste of what we do everyday, on every channel, on every screen.” Plus, she said, “You get it all under one roof. When the social media guys can do that, just let me know. But I wouldn’t hold your breath. We’re not in the ‘likes’ business. We’re in the results business.”
The measurement landscape, not TV’s inherent worth, is the key issue, Yaccarino said. “The last time there was a meaningful update to the currency of TV advertising, she said, was in 2007. “Eleven years ago, we used flip phones,” she said. “Now we use smartphones.” In something of a call to arms, she added, “Aren’t we all tired of letting inertia rule our industry?”
Yaccarino pointed to the synergy of NBCU linear and digital platforms for ad buyers, plus efforts to reduce overall ad time and “clutter.” On NBCU platforms, she said, individual brands can step forward and “own up to 24 minutes in an hour,” with greater transparency and viewability than on digital platforms, which “grade their own homework” without adequate third-party measurement.
Late-night host Seth Meyers sprinkled several winks at the ad buyers in attendance during his time onstage. He said that given the state of ratings, brand integrations during programming are increasingly important for both buyers and sellers. “For my money,” he joked, “the best ad integration this year was on USA, between the TV show Suits and the royal wedding. Whatever the queen paid for that integration, it was worth it because I have been hearing a lot about that wedding.”