Google inks NBC U ad deal

Tech giant brokering national commerical time

With a market capitalization that exceeds $130 billion, the tech giant that dominates Internet search advertising is bigger than Time Warner, Viacom, CBS, the New York Times and ad-agency Publicis combined.

And last week, Google received a major boost to its ambitions to become a key player in the $70 billion TV advertising market, too, inking a deal with NBC Universal to sell commercial time on the conglom’s Sci Fi, Oxygen, MSNBC, CNBC, Sleuth and Chiller cable channels.

Google kicked off its TV advertising business last year, inking a deal with EchoStar to sell some of the Dish Network’s commercial inventory. Using a Web-based interface similar to the one they’d navigate to purchase Google search ads, clients including 1-800-Flowers.com signed up to buy time on a wide assortment of cable networks and upload their own commercials by themselves, with no ad agency involved.

Dish’s fancy set-top boxes, meanwhile, gave these advertisers some of the same intelligence advantages they enjoyed on the Internet, such as knowing who actually watched their ads and who remote-clicked away from them.

With the NBC U deal in place, Google is now moving up to broker national commercial time for a number of cable networks beyond just the finite 13 million-plus-viewer universe on the Dish Network.

So what’s the general reaction among rival network ad sales execs and ad buyers to the company that controls one-third of all Internet advertising aggressively moving onto their turf?

“This is very positive for the TV business and for cable,” says Bill Abbott, exec VP of ad sales for the Hallmark Channel, noting that Google hopes to add 1,000 new advertisers to the TV market in the coming months. Google reps didn’t return calls for comment.

“I think it will bring in a lot more clients who are not currently using the medium,” Abbott adds.

“I’m actually a proponent of this,” says Andrew Donchin, director of national broadcast for Carat North America.

Donchin sees no threat from Google to broadcast networks and big, broad-reach cable channels like ESPN, Lifetime and USA, which are moving in the opposite direction from such commoditized ad purchasing toward more strategic, tailor-made services — brand integration, special interstitials, etc. — in an effort to deliver their clients more of that ever-precious viewer engagement.

However, Donchin says Google can provide a cheaper, more “streamlined” way for smaller advertisers to connect with the tiny fragments of the audience who are fleeing to niche cable networks. Now, brands that never had a previous contact with a Madison Avenue TV division can buy time themselves on, for example, Sci Fi’s “Battlestar Galactica.”

“It opens things up for advertisers who want to get into TV and expand their reach a little,” he says. “They can take advantage of some of the opportunities out their with second- and third-tier cable networks without having to hire ad buyers to purchase time on these networks.”

Then, of course, there’s all that data Google provides to advertisers, which has been key to the company’s rise to global domination in search.

Knowing perhaps too much about its consumer base online — and knowing more and more about TV watchers through the sampling it’s able to do on the Dish Network — Google hopes to provide its trademark “dashboard” view of ad performance to its TV clients. For example, Google TV clients can find out if an increase in homepage searches is tied to an uptick in commercial purchasing.

In fact, key to the NBC U deal is the development of new, more drilled-down viewer analytics based on this data.

“What I’m looking for is behavioral data derived from Google’s dominant search position,” Donchin says. “We owe it to ourselves to at least try this out.”