NBCUniversal said it would hold a one-hour streaming-video presentation for Madison Avenue on May 11 to discuss the advertising marketplace, the first of the big U.S. media companies to commit to a formal conversation with advertisers in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a message sent to agencies and clients Friday, NBCU said it planned to hold a “State of the Marketplace Conversation” likely to center around its efforts to manage TV and digital-video inventory as part of the same process. Executives do not see the meeting as a replacement for a traditional “upfront” meeting, which the networks usually hold in mid-May, but rather an “update” of sorts, according to a person familiar with the matter. This person suggested the media company would offer some “news” during the session and “unveil new offerings,” but would also detail how NBCU plans to approach the industry’s “upfront” market, when TV companies try to sell the bulk of their advertising in advance of the next programming season.
That sales effort has been thrown into disarray by the pandemic. Many advertisers – particularly those in the travel, movie and automotive categories – are trying to navigate a climate in which consumers shelter at home and in which vast amounts of consumer spending has been curtailed. While some TV sponsors have indicated they are ready to make advertising commitments now, as one would do in a typical market, others are pressing for a sales process to take place in September or October, when they can make purchases for 2021.
As the scope of the coronavirus spread became better understood in March, all the major media companies scuttled their regular upfront presentations. Those glitzy showcases usually take place in mid-May and bring together advertisers, talent agencies, programming executives and actors in a week stuffed with celebrations and spark weeks of negotiations over billions of dollars in advertising. NBCU’s presentation, usually held at Radio City Music Hall, had been scheduled for May 11 – just like the new streaming-video meeting.
NBCU’s ad-sales team, led by its chairman, Linda Yaccarino (pictured, above), has in recent weeks worked to woo Madison Avenue with a series of offers centered around new technology and new commercial formats. The company, which has been trying to facilitate broader purchases of ad inventory across its portfolio, has introduced a “One Platform” concept centered around buying both linear and digital-video ads; continued to press technology that will let consumers make purchases based on prompts in their favorite TV programs; and vowed to scale back the number of commercials it runs in news, late-night and reality programming.
Like other media companies, NBCUniversal could be facing headwinds in this year’s haggling. In 2019, despite viewership declines, the nation’s five English-language TV networks commanded double-digit rate increases and saw the volume of primetime commitments increase between 5.5% and 7.4%, according to Variety estimates. The networks secured between $9.6 billion and $10.8 billion for primetime, according to Variety estimates, compared with $9.1 billion and $10.06 billion in the 2018 market, marking the fourth consecutive year that the networks have seen increasing volume for their primetime schedules.
But buyers caution those conditions are not likely to prevail in 2020. There are already predictions this year’s upfront volume will be flat to down, and buyers say clients grappling with recession conditions will simply not submit to substantial rate increases at a time when more viewers are gravitating to streaming-video programming that is viewed on demand.
NBCU said executives would take questions during the May meeting. The session is supposed to be public, and invitees include marketers, agencies, technology providers, trade organizations and media outlets.