Comcast executives predicted a strong TV-advertising market would buoy its NBCUniversal unit during TV’s coming “upfront” marketplace, as advertisers reconsider how they use digital media alongside traditional outlets like broadcast and cable television.
“I think we are going into the upfront with better positioning, a better, more unified approach and more strength than we’ve ever had,” said Steve Burke, chief executive of NBCUniversal, during a call with investors held by Comcast Wednesday morning. “We will see how it all plays out.”
Media executives are showing new confidence in the TV-advertising market, which has slumped for the last several years during the annual haggle in which U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming program season. For several weeks now, media companies have disclosed robust markets for so-called “scatter” advertising, or commercials bought closer to the time they air. When scatter is on the rise, advertisers tend to invest more heavily during the upfront, in hopes of locking in ad costs they believe will rise later in the year.
During the call, Burke suggested Madison Avenue is growing dissatisfied with some of the results they’ve seen from digital advertising. “The emotion of the market has swung pretty dramatically over the last year,” he said. “People have come to the realization that broad television reach is really important to a campaign, that digital has a place, but that television has a big place.”
Digital outlets are under new scrutiny as advertisers question the measurement and quality of consumer “traffic,” and fret about new technology that allows web viewers to “block” certain kinds of digital advertising.
Meanwhile, some underlying revenue in the broadcast business are providing strength, Burke said, citing the growth of retransmission fees for NBC stations and from affilates to $800 million from a non-existent base over the past five years.
Comcast executives cited the presence of new Thursday-night NFL games on NBC this coming season as a factor in their confidence. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts also cited NBCUniversal’s coming coverage of the 2016 Rio Olympics, noting that it would be “unprecedented” in its scope.
Burke noted viewership for the Olympics would likely trounce that for the other broadcast networks combined over a 17-day stretch, and suggested the strength of that event underscored the ways in which advertisers were regarding broadcast. “It feels like broadcast is getting stronger and stgronger in this period” of flux in the media industry caused by digital technology. “We have to keep putting good shows on and it’s tougher and tougher in a fragmented world, but when you do, you get rewarded for it, significantly.”