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NBCU Sees Primetime Ad Gains in TV’s Upfront Market (EXCLUSIVE)

Advertisers increased the amount of money they were willing to commit to NBC’s primetime schedule, the latest signal that Madison Avenue is continuing to earmark ad dollars for traditional TV despite a host of attractive digital-video alternatives.

During a call with investors Thursday morning, NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said this year’s “upfront” session, an annual negotiation between U.S. TV networks and Madison Avenue over commercial inventory, was the “strongest” the company had seen in the seven years since Comcast Corp. took control of the media conglomerate.

NBCUniversal’s flagship broadcast network notched what is said to be a 7% increase in the number of ad commitments secured during TV’s annual “upfront” sales session, according to a person familiar with the matter. Overall, that could mean NBC’s primetime commitments came to around $2.92 billion, according to Variety estimates, compared with $2.73 billion in 2017. Primetime volume in 2017 is believed to have increased between 8% and 9%.

Advertisers placed new emphasis on MSNBC, where ad volume is said to have increased by 30%, according to this person, and Telmundo, where ad commitments rose 3%. Advertisers were drawn to programs such as “This Is Us” and the “Today” morning franchise; the new Bravo series “Dirty John” and red-carpet coverage on E!, according to the person familiar with the discussions.

Overall volume across the NBCUniversal portfolio of TV networks is said to have increased 5%. In previous years, NBCU has claimed the total value of ad commitments across the company came to between $6 billion and $6.5 billion. Next season’s schedule, however, will not include the Super Bowl broadcast or telecasts of “Thursday Night Football” that may have buoyed the company in last year’s market.

Like other networks, NBC sought increases in the rate it charges to reach 1,000 viewers, a measure known as a CPM that is central to these annual discussions. NBCU’s Burke said NBC secured CPM gains of “more than 11%”  for primetime ad slots. During negotiations, NBC pressed for CPM hikes of between 11% and 13%, according to the media buyers and other people familiar with the situation. In 2017, NBC sought primetime CPMs of between 8% and 9%.

NBCUniversal emphasized a new primetime ad method, calling for a reduction of ad inventory during original broadcasts of approximately 51 series across six networks. The company intends to make up for fewer commercial by running what it calls “prime pods,” or isolated ads from specific marketers at a higher-than-normal price.  Marketers were eager to buy the new commercials in top-rated series like “This Is Us” and “The Voice,” with varying levels of demand for the format in other programs.

Advertisers demonstrated interest in digital video, where volume is said to have increased by 30%, and in a new “CFlight” measure that NBCU says will deliver impressions made by commercials within full episodes of shows across various screens.

NBCU saw particular interest from financial-services advertisers, insurance marketers, movie studios, technology advertisers and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

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