NBCUniversal is expanding its relationship with ad tracking firm iSpot, telling a room full of media buyers today that it will offer the company’s data as official currency starting at its May upfront.
“Now is the time to embrace change,” Kelly Abcarian, EVP of Measurement & Impact for NBCU, declared during the company’s “One22” event. “We’re heading to Radio City, and this year’s upfront, ready to activate against iSpot’s cross-platform audience … Our long-awaited, multi-currency future has finally arrived. We’ve got the technology. We’ve got the data. And we’re ready to help today.”
The plan to use the May 16 upfront as the start to offering more iSpot data builds on a “test-and-learn” initiative conducted by the companies during the Winter Olympics in February. In the test, iSpot turned around insights on ad effectiveness and viewer tendencies within a day, cutting conventional wait times. The goal of the team-up was to capture the full audience picture across streaming (NBCU’s Peacock carried all Beijing events this time around) and linear. Like its media peers, NBCU has long complained that Nielsen ratings, which are the main currency between ad buyers and sellers, cost them money by inaccurately tracking viewership. NBCU ad chief Linda Yaccarino, in her opening comments, used a football analogy, saying, “When we throw for a touchdown, we deserve all six points. And you deserve effective, comprehensive metrics that matter.”
The brighter spotlight on iSpot does not mean Nielsen will be kicked offstage, of course. NBCU and rivals will continue to rely on Nielsen as a central part of their measurement for the near term, given the need for third-party validation in order for ad buying and selling to proceed smoothly. Yet he mood has been decidedly restless in the $60 billion-plus TV ad business for the past couple of years, even more than in previous moments of friction between the longtime measurement leader and TV networks.
Nielsen’s credentials were yanked by the Media Rating Council, a watchdog organization, after it was found to have undercounted both linear and streaming viewing in 2020 and 2021. The measurement firm apologized for the errors, but said they represented a small fraction of its total dataset. Nielsen plans to roll out Nielsen One, a new set of measurement tools it bills as its most comprehensive yet, by the end of 2022.
But while NBCU was careful not to have any execs even utter the name “Nielsen” during the event, the takeaway for attendees was unambiguous. Standing next to a screen bearing the all-caps message, “TIME IS RUNNING OUT,” Abcarian drew on her background, which included a 16-year stint as a Nielsen exec before she joined NBCU last year. She noted that 2024 has been set as the date when Nielsen One is due to become Nielsen’s only set of ratings, replacing decades-old paradigms based on panels. That will make the task of marshaling historical comparisons — a key aspect of negotiating ad rates — all but impossible.
“The currency we all use today is going away, no matter what. You can’t stop it,” she said. “We will all have to start over together. At NBCU, we’re choosing to get started right now.”
One22, a tech-style advertising innovation summit during which Steve Jobs was invoked at least once, consisted of a 90-minute program featuring executives and representatives from various outside partners. It was held at the company’s Studio 8H, home of Saturday Night Live, one of the first in-person gatherings at the leading edge of an upfronts season expected to be the industry’s first since 2019 due to Covid limitations.
Krishan Bhatia, NBCU’s president and chief business officer, followed Abcarian onto the stage, declaring iSpot to be the “new default measurement standard, delivering more speed, more accuracy and a true cross-platform view” of a brand’s total reach.
A group of 66 advertisers signed on as the initial partners in the iSpot trial during the Olympics. They have been given free access to iSpot’s dashboard and NBCU staff has conducted weekly office hours in order to help them understand how to interpret the data.
NBCU and iSpot are still processing the takeaways from the Olympics. Abcarian said the Games were the No. 1 ad delivery vehicle during their 17-day run, except for the Super Bowl (which was also on NBCU). Offering a reduced ad load, she said (Peacock, which carried all Olympic events, limits ads to five minutes an hour) increases ad recall and effectiveness, Abcarian and other execs affirmed.
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