×

NBCU Ad Chief to Madison Ave: ‘We’ve Got a Problem.’ Who Can Fix It?

A parade of Madison Avenue’s top executives streamed into a posh Manhattan restaurant in hopes of drumming up new remedies for some of the industry’s longest and most festering problems.

NBCUniversal called the meeting – a rare convocation of executives from fierce rivals – earlier this month, as the industry faces a mounting list of challenges to its ability to monetize advertising. Technology has granted couch potatoes a dizzying array of new ways to unhitch themselves from their traditional TV set – and the media buyers and sellers can’t agree upon a standard set of rules governing how ads are placed in emerging venues like mobile screens and streaming video, nor can they reach consensus on how to measure the viewers who watch them.

“We’ve got a problem,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of ad sales and client partnerships at NBCU. If the industry can’t come together, she said, it risks seeing the current ad-supported ecosystem that supports the industry erode over the next decade. “We can’t leave without a meaningful plan for action and follow-up.”

Among those spotted stepping into New York’s Pool eatery – the heir to a space previously inhabited by The Four Seasons – were advertising luminaries such as Irwin Gotlieb, chairman of WPP’s massive GroupM ad-buying unit; David Levy, president of Time Warner’s Turner; and Ed Erhardt, the longtime overseer of ESPN’s ad sales group.  Attendees expected to hear the first public remarks from Brian Lesser, who was named to supervise a new advertising and analytics unit expected to be part of a combined AT&T-Time Warner.

In an example of how quickly the industry must embrace new ideas to keep advertisers (and the consumers they seek to attract) interested, Yaccarino said the company was willing to consider adopting new measures of advertising effectiveness, or making the experience of watching video more pleasant for consumers. “We might even reduce commercial load across the board,” she said.

To be sure, the convocation could be nothing more than a dog-and-pony show – an assemblage of hand-wringers giving voice to longstanding concerns without taking much action. But at a time when multiple companies are rolling out individual solutions – Turner, Fox Networks and Viacom have joined together to foster audience buying, while GroupM hopes to put in place a system to measure audiences no matter what screen they choose to watch their favorite program – the meeting underscores some of the very real risks the industry faces if it can’t start to agree on new methodologies.

Participants heard from Gary Bettman, the Commissioner of the National Hockey League (an NBCU partner) and IBM CMO Michelle Peluso about how to reach consumers using multiple forms of media. as well as Twitter COO Anthony Noto and Bob Rupczynski, McDonalds’ global vice president of media and customer relations, who discussed measurement, an issue that continues to flummox a raft of ad players who see audience numbers associated with TV dwindling.

The projections were daunting. Peluso and Lesser articulated a vision of an industry dictated less by old processes and more by new technology. Data and interactivity will allow for the creation of so-called “targeted” commercials that will appear before narrower niches of consumers based on details culled about their lifestyle and geography. Perhaps an advertiser can determine whether a particular household is in the market for  a new car and send a promotion that plays to that possible interest. “It’s not creepy,” said Lesser. “It’s relevant.” Some consumers and privacy advocates are likely to disagree.

And attendees also came face to face with growing pressures from advertisers who increasingly want to link particular commercials with completed sales.  “I want to measure how many people come into the restaurant” because of advertising, said McDonalds’ Rupczynski. Other measures have less value to him. The executive also spoke to a growing trend that might worry owners of big national TV networks. While the fast-food giant continues to run millions of dollars’ worth of national TV ads, it is also airing campaigns that are more limited in scope. McDonald’s has done more to woo what he called “micro-segments” – snackers, coffee drinkers, and the like. Doing so requires a narrower kind of promotion aimed at a select group of consumers, not all of them. On the flip side, “there are occasions we are willing to pay more for a message that’s more targeted,” he added.

Even an executive who needs advertising to keep his producers and programs flush called for something new and radical to be done. “People are running away from advertising in droves. How do we stop that from happening?” asked Bob Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment. Like many of the others who spoke, he called for commercials that don’t interrupt a viewer’s experience and instead become part of the bond between audience and show.

If the executives in the room have their way, big changes to TV advertising should be on the way. If only all of them could agree upon a simple means of getting it all done.

More Biz

  • Bert Salke and Jennifer Salke

    Feds Looked Into Amazon Studios Chief Jennifer Salke in College Admissions Scandal

    Federal investigators looked into Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke and her husband, Fox 21 Television Studios president Bert Salke, as they conducted a sprawling probe of cheating in elite college admissions, a source close to the case told Variety. It does not appear, however, that prosecutors will charge the Salkes in the case. The Salkes [...]

  • Variety Cord Cutting Placeholder Cable

    Big Blackout Looms as CBS, AT&T Go Down to Wire on Renewal Talks

    A blackout affecting CBS stations in major markets throughout the country looms as CBS and AT&T executives go down to the wire on negotiations for a retransmission consent deal covering 28 O&O stations. The sides have sparred publicly during the past few days as 11 p.m. PT Friday expiration of the previous contract approached. AT&T [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    ICM Responds to WGA Packaging Lawsuit: Claims are 'Baseless' and 'Absurd'

    ICM Partners has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed against four major talent agencies by the Writers Guild of America as part of the larger war between agencies and the guild over packaging fees on TV series and movies. The guild sued ICM, CAA, WME and UTA in California state court in April, [...]

  • New York City NYC Placeholder

    CityFM Podcast Takes a Deep Look at New York’s Music Scene (Listen)

    First among the many projects listed at the beginning of New York Music Month in June was a WNYE radio show and podcast called CityFM that promised to “explore the city’s music culture, emerging artists and trends, and upcoming events told through the lens of what’s happening around the city in Summer 2019.” And while [...]

  • Live Nation Logo. (PRNewsFoto/Live Nation)

    Live Nation Confirms Placing Tickets Directly on Secondary Market at Artists’ Request

    Representatives for Live Nation, the world’s largest live-entertainment company and owner of Ticketmaster, confirmed that it bypassed conventional channels and directly placed thousands of concert tickets on the secondary market upon artists’ request, in an article published in Billboard. In a statement shared with Variety, the company acknowledged that it has facilitated the transfer of [...]

  • Costume designer Michele Clapton

    Costume Designers Fashion a Plan to Fight for Pay Parity in Upcoming Contract Talks

    The Costume Designers Guild Local 892 is gearing up to fight for pay equity in its 2021 contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, establishing a pay-equity committee to raise awareness of the scale disparity between the mostly female CDG membership and the mostly male membership of the Art Directors Guild Local [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content