Linda Yaccarino isn’t shy when it comes to talking tough about problems in the media industry or pushing for the highest ad prices she can get for her company, NBCUniversal. In recent months, the NBCU ad-sales chief has pressed for primetime prices for late-night’s “Saturday Night Live,” called out Facebook and slammed Nielsen.
Now, she’s sending a different type of message.
NBCUniversal has asked top media buyers, executives at rival TV networks and digital-media outlets, video distributors, ad-tech platforms and even a handful of advertisers to come together on November 28, according to five people familiar with the matter, to talk about a legion of problems the industry just can’t seem to dispel. Technology has granted couch potatoes a dizzying array of new ways to unhitch themselves from their traditional TV set. But the rise of flashy portable screens and the streaming video that fills them has bedeviled the media sector. Companies can’t agree upon a standard set of rules governing how ads are placed in these emerging venues, nor can they reach consensus on how to measure the viewers who watch them.
Without new policies, media companies ranging from ABC to Vice risk losing millions of dollars in advertising that keep their engines running.
“It’s intended to be intimate, less than 100 people,” said one media buyer who has seen the invitation. Yaccarino “wants people to check their egos and logos at the door and talk about some of the lingering issues impacting our business.”
The meeting underscores the risky situation facing the media and advertising sectors. Consumers have migrated to streaming video, subscription-video outlets and on-demand viewing. As they do, there are growing concerns about the quality of content on sites like YouTube or the quality of measurement on outlets such as Facebook. And there is still no one standard methodology for tallying all this new activity. Various players – Nielsen, WPP’s GroupM, and different coalitions of media companies – have tried to put together their own systems. One idea recently launched is code-named “Thor,” and hopes to weave together a plan under which media outlets get paid when they can prove exposure to commercials helped drive a purchase.
All in all, the current scene sounds more like a Tower of Babel than it does a viable framework for the placement of billions of Madison Avenue’s dollars.
Little wonder many people see new urgency in getting as many parties together to come up with new solutions. Top media, measurement, technology and advertising executives have in recent days received an ornate package from Yaccarino. It’s said to be the size of a coffee-table book, wrapped in black and trussed up with a silk ribbon. “I can’t imagine how much this box cost,” says one person who has seen it.
After recipients open it, paw through a series of plexiglass pieces and vinyl overlays and get down to the bottom, they come to an invitation – one Yaccarino (pictured, above) hopes will prompt the industry to tackle the issues in unified fashion.
Among the topics slated for discussion, according to one person familiar with the situation: Measuring audiences; transparency in reporting ad results; and creating safe environments for advertisers. NBCUniversal declined to make executives available for comment.
The media sector has other sprawling conglomerates like 21st Century Fox or Walt Disney Co., but NBCUniversal has more reason than others to seem such a forum.
The company holds one of the biggest portfolio of TV networks, including Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo. It’s owned by Comcast, which has made its own forays into video-on-demand and audience measurement. NBCU is a part owner of some of the digital era’s most prominent outlets, such as Snap Inc., Vox Media, Axios and Buzzfeed. NBCU struck a deal last year to be the exclusive U.S. seller of commercial space in the Apple News app. And over the next several months, NBCU is slated to broadcast the Super Bowl, the Winter Olympics and the World Cup – ensuring it has the full attention of many advertisers.
NBCUniversal has played an integral role in the past in getting the industry to change its ways.
In 2007, the company struck a massive ad deal with the large media-buying consortium GroupM that called for the first real use of so-called “commercial ratings.” Prior to that time, advertisers paid based on the number of people who watched programs. In the wake of the growing popularity of the DVR, more sponsors began to focus on who watched the ads, rather than skipping past them with a touch of the fast-forward button.
NBCU agreed to start using the new measurement system in exchange for GroupM parking more than $800 million of ads across the company’s broadcast and cable outlets. In doing so, it set in motion widespread use of the new metric, known as “C3,” because it tabulates the number of viewers who see an ad up to three days after it originally airs. Without NBCUniversal’s participation, the industry might have taken much longer to make the measure a business standard.