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Inside NBCU’s Bold Plan to Wring More Ad Dollars From Reruns

The problem with repeats is that many viewers have already seen them.  Now NBCUniversal wants people to look at the commercials that accompany reruns in a completely different way.

NBCU plans in early 2019 to unveil a new offering that places commercials in reruns, movies and syndicated programs containing segments that align with the mission or topic of the ads. Is an advertiser looking for wedding scenes? NBCUniversal will be able to tap into a digital compendium of information about coming broadcasts that can identify marriage scenarios with positive sentiments (and shun those that might be less desirable, such as a wedding in which tragedy occurs)  – and give advertisers a chance to place their commercial next to the program segment which contains it.

“It’s steroids for your creative,” says Josh Feldman, executive vice president of integrated marketing and advertising creative for NBCUniversal. He acknowledges “a certain perception about repeat programming,” but says executives feel “those audiences are just as valuable” as others who watch TV. NBCU is testing the concept in the fourth quarter with three to five advertisers which he declined to name.

The technology represents the latest attempt by NBCU to wring more dollars from certain kinds of TV advertising inventory previously seen as less desirable by Madison Avenue. Under Linda Yaccarino, chairman of ad sales and client partnerships, NBCU has worked to get more money for reruns of TV favorites on cable (showings of “Modern Family” on USA) or its 9 a.m. hour of “Today” when there was more optimism about Megyn Kelly’s tenure in the time slot.

In this particular case, the methodology is something that has been tried in the past.  While overseeing ad sales for Turner’s entertainment networks in the earlier part of the decade, Yaccarino started an 18-month initiative to build software and hire staff to tag specific segments on movies and TV shows so that advertisers could identify specific moments for relevant messages, like a tissue commercial that might surface at the bottom of the screen during a particularly sad scene in a movie. “It was a totally manual process back then,” says Feldman.

In the interim, more TV networks are trying to align commercials more closely with content. ABC last season allowed Procter & Gamble to embed a marketing message into the plot of an episode of the sitcom “Black-ish” and sold Mitsubishi on running special ads for its Eclipse car during ABC News coverage of a real-life counterpart of the natural phenomenon. CNN in recent months has flashed advertiser logos on screen, telling viewers that a particular program is being sponsored by the marketer in question.

Many of those deals are bespoke. NBCU hopes its large database will give rise to broader purchases

The company intends to scan script information; closed-captioning data; and other video descriptions to identify topics and scenes. The offering works best with programs where everyone knows what’s involved, says Feldman, not live sports or news. In live shows, “we have no idea what they are about to say in any given moment,” he says. “This is about scripted programming.”

NBCU expects to sell the concept in the coming “upfront,” the annual market in which U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory, but recognizes it can only put the alignments together on a quarter by quarter basis, says Feldman. After all, information about coming programs isn’t necessarily available half a year before something airs.

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