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NBCUniversal Plans to Cut Commercial Time by 20% in Primetime by 2020

Less may be more for NBCUniversal.

After selling ad schedules for the 2018-2019 season that cut commercial inventory in original primetime programming by 10% on many of its broadcast and cable networks, the Comcast-owned media conglomerate intends to take things further. The company’s TV shows run the gamut from “The Voice” to “The Rachel Maddow Show.”

“In an effort to bring audiences a better viewing experience and provide marketers more engaging advertising opportunities, NBCUniversal has been committed to reducing commercial time and creating new storytelling solutions since 2017. The journey continues,” the company said in a statement. “By 2020, NBCU will have reduced video ad load and ad clutter, each by more than 20% percent within primetime.” NBCU also indicated it will look at cutting commercial inventory in other parts of its schedule, such as in daytime programs like “Today.”

While the idea sounds counter-intuitive – how can a media company make more money by selling fewer ads? – NBCU has worked to make up any difference by offering new formats and technologies that it believes add value to the commercials that do run amid reduced inventory. NBCU has offered “prime pods,” or a 60-second piece of national ad time that airs near the start or end of a program featuring just one or two sponsors. The company recently unveiled technology that will help advertisers align their messages with specific moments from programs.

“Innovations in premium advertising—from new ad formats, reduced ad loads, AI targeting solutions, automated systems to new measurement—are enhancing the viewing experience and helping more marketers tell better stories to build stronger brands,”said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of ad sales and client partnerships at NBCUniversal. “And this is just the beginning.” NBCU is just one of many media companies starting to position themselves for the annual “upfront” market, when U.S. V networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming programming season.

NBCUniversal isn’t the first TV company to try its hand at such techniques, which seek to reduce the amount of “clutter,” or advertising and promos, that inundate most TV aficionados. Time Warner’s Turner in 2016 launched a plan for its TruTV cable network under which shows would run longer while being interrupted with fewer commercials.

Axios previously reported NBCU’s new efforts.

NBCUniversal’s Kavita Vazirani expanded on her company’s approach to audience measurement on the latest episode of Variety podcast Strictly Business.

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