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NBCUniversal Sees Primetime Ad Gains in TV’s Upfront Market

Advertisers increased the amount of money they were willing to commit to NBC’s primetime schedule and other parts of NBCUniversal, the latest in a series of flashing signals showing Madison Avenue continuing to earmark ad dollars for traditional TV despite a host of attractive digital-video alternatives.

Aided by the sale of spots in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, NBCUniversal said it saw a 10% increase in the volume of advance advertising commitments it secured in the industry’s annual “upfront” advertising market, during which U.S. TV companies try to sell the bulk of their commercial inventory for their next programming cycle. In all, NBCU said it secured “nearly” $7 billion for its overall portfolio of media assets. The company indicated that without the Olympics sales, the volume of advance commitments was up 3%.

Primetime volume across various distribution venues rose 8%, the company said.  Based on those details, it’s possible that NBCUniversal might have secured around $3.15 billion for its primetime schedule, according to Variety estimates. In 2018, the company secured around $2.92 billion for primetime, marking an increase of 7% over 2017.

NBCUniversal is the latest beneficiary of a counterintuitive business trend: Despite the fact that viewers for traditional TV are moving to new video venues to watch their couch-potato favorites, advertisers are putting more money into TV, not less. NBC is the latest network to register volume gains even as audiences scatter to streaming video venues like Netflix and Hulu. CBS, the CW, Univision and Fox have all seen advertising commitments rise in this year’s upfront market, not fall – the fourth consecutive year of gains.

Blue-chip advertisers have grappled with concerns about the quality of content available from digital rivals as well as transparency of the way audiences are measured. And they still need to reach viewers with ad messages. Despite the popularity of streaming video, some of its bigger purveyors, including Netflix and Amazon, do not run traditional video commercials in programming. In some cases, marketers are buying up new-video opportunities from old-guard purveyors. All the traditional companies have broadband opportunities as well as linear ones.

Speaking during a call with investors Thursday, NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said the company found the current advertising market to be “very healthy” and noticed a surge of interest from “digital-native” companies that range from Facebook to Google to Peloton and do the bulk of their business online. Such marketers, he said, were behind $1 billion of the company’s upfront registration. “Ironically, these are the businesses that are putting some pressure on our ratings,” he said, but were not spending as heavily on TV advertising four or five years ago.

NBCUniversal was able to command better rates than it did a year ago. The company pressed for increases in the cost of reaching 1,000 viewers, a measure known as a CPM that is central to these annual discussions between TV networks and their ad sponsors. In 2019, NBCU sought CPM hikes of between 13.5% and 14% for primetime ads and an average of 9% across its various media holdings. In 2018, NBCU sought increases of more than 11% for primetime ad slots.

Advertisers increased their spending on NBCU’s NFL broadcasts, where registered volume is up 8%, and on MSNBC, where advance commitments appear to be up 6%. MSNBC’s projected gains are notable, given that advertisers were said to have increased volume by 30% last year.

NBCU also noted a significant rise in the amount of advertising committed to digital video. Volume rose 50% to “nearly $1.3 billion,” the company indicated.






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