NBCUniversal's Linda Yaccarino: 'We are not in the grade your own homework business'

L-R: Randal Rothenberg, IAB, in conversation with Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversal, at the IAB Video Symposium / IAB

As New York City prepares for the kick-off of the 2018 UpFront season, NBCUniversal has taken to the conference circuit armed with a host of updates and is promising advertisers greater measurement, and transparency all in a brand safe environment. The Drum details its messaging.

NBCUniversal's sales chief Linda Yaccarino, yesterday (May 7) addressed the IAB Video Symposium explaining to attendees the Comcast-owned unit’s philosophy when it comes to challenging the status quo.

In recent weeks, NBCUniversal has lifted the lid on its new-look media offering, including joining its “new age partners” Fox, Turner, and Viacom in the ranks of the OpenAP consortium. An alliance that will see NBCUniversal license its audience data capabilities with OpenAP’s standardized datasets, thus making it easier for advertisers to target TV audiences at scale.

This comes after NBCUniversal unveiled a custom video advertising metric with which to measure advertising impressions across all viewing platforms; including live, on-demand, broadcast TV and digital formats.

Dubbed CFlight, it comes complete with third-party verification, and the TV network harbors hope that it might one day be adopted by agencies, marketers, plus other networks as a new industry standard.

In conversation, this week with IAB chief executive Randall Rothenberg, and NBCUniversal’s Yaccarino (pictured above) kicked off their discussion referencing the high profile “industry all hands” she called last fall where multiple members of the ecosystem gathered to discuss their paint points.

'New age partners'

Among the attendees at the landmark gathering, which took place in November 2017, were traditional rival TV network, or “new age partners” as Yaccarino described them, in what can be deemed as a tacit acknowledgment of the threat posed by online platforms such as Facebook and Google-owned YouTube.

“You know, we're living in an environment where the change is necessary," Yaccarino told attendees yesterday while under questioning from Rothernberg. She further went on to characterize last fall’s event as one of “frank conversations fueled by incredible candor”, adding that participation from marketers in attendance, in particular, meant it was a far cry from the industry’s usual echo chamber discussions.

According to the TV network’s sales chief, the extent of issues the traditional TV space faces around measurement are reflective of a generic ignorance that has to be called out.

“It's reflective of an industry that is disrespectful to the viewing patterns and content consumption of the consumer,” she said from the IAB stage, adding that NBCUniversal wants to steer conversations with advertisers away from metrics, and more towards outcomes.

When quizzed on the TV network’s (comparatively late) decision to join the ranks of OpenAP, Yaccarino explained how the delay was initially due to the Comcast-owned business waiting to assess whether or not its methodologies were in synch, etc.

“So once we were able to negotiate a partnership, we were happy to be able to actually push the OpenAP efforts in terms of the offerings which pushed the industry over the 50% [of marketshare] line,” she said.

Yaccarino also voiced her ambition that the OpenAP offering will be a universal platform and an end-to-end solution for media buyers, prompting Rothenberg to ask her to explain how such an offering is any different from the walled gardens of Facebook and Google.

'Very, very different from the walled gardens'

"We are not in the grade your own homework business. So a walled garden would give you a report that they decide that you get, and that's your grade. This is very, very different," she asserted.

A key difference between the OpenAP consortium's offering, whose ranks were recently bolstered after the Comcast-owned outfit joined in recent weeks, is that the joint venture between NBCUniversal, Fox, Turner and Viacom is open to consistent third-party measurement, according to Yaccarino.

"First of all, it's a very important capability where you're identifying consumer segments that are not the traditional consumer segments that are published or offered through Nielsen," she explained.

“That's what it's about, so then once you identify the networks by this new data, you're able to go back to those networks and allocate your budgets accordingly and goes through what your normal buying process is," she said. "But you still have the continued third-party verification and on the end of the buy of how we performed by that particular approach.”

The difficulties with walled garden data

Yaccarino asserts that many of the complications associated with online media buying, such as discrepancies around measurement methodologies around viewability, etc, would not be as problematic if the walled gardens were more transparent.

Rothenberg went on to offer his observation that for every high profile marketer venting their anger over transparency, such as Procter & Gamble brand chief Marc Pritchard, or Unilever's marketing boss Keith Weed, there are 10-times that amount who simply accept the status quo when it comes to the walled gardens' policies over sharing data.

Why some marketers continue to invest in walled gardens

"The word 'frustrating' is a nice 'f-word' to use actually," quipped Yaccarino in response to Rothenberg.

Although, she later went on to acknowledge some of the reasons that people continue to invest their media budgets in the industry's walled gardens; namely that such platforms can achieve the short term KPIs of marketers under pressure to justify their budgets.

"In a lot of the platforms where you can't see what's going on behind the curtain, it seems more efficient and attractive than the top line," she explained. "In a world where there is procurement versus marketing investment, the reality is everybody's under a lot of pressure. And it takes courage from a [Marc] Pritchard to say: 'I'm not doing it anymore'."

The difficulty marketers looking to take such a stand face is finding the right tools and media mix modeling to prove purchasing media in more expensive environments – say, an NBCUniversal buy, as opposed to a YouTube media buy –is one that is right for the business "in a worry-free zone".

Such dilemmas faced by the majority of marketers in-part prompted NBCUniversal's decision to launch its cross-screen measurement offering CFlight which lets advertisers compare the efficacy of their media buys across screens, as well as in different time-shifts.

Agreeing on a new currency

Some argue that the true problem facing the industry is its inability to replicate a single measurement currency, similar to Nielsen's dominance of the analog TV era, in an era when viewership takes place across screens and platforms.

For Yaccarino, it is just “inexcusable where measurement exists today on the traditional media side”, adding that in the contemporary era waiting for three weeks for metrics on what “may have” happened to be returned is simply no longer acceptable.

"It's unfortunate because Nielsen could be one company that could figure it out and we continue to work with them, but we say we're out of time,” she said when discussing the launch of CFlight, which was performed "hand-in-hand" with clients.

“So it was a real important step and I think next year you're going to see even more of that because current measurements simply do not reflect the effectiveness of premium content,” she added.

Forecasts for UpFront 2018 season

As the ComCast-owned outfit prepares to host its annual UpFront showcase on May 14, Rothenberg quizzed Yaccarino on her anticipation for this year’s media trading season.

She responded claiming that the current macroeconomic conditions have her upbeat, forecasting this year's return will be "just as good as, if not likely better" than in 2017. “Since Comcast bought NBCUniversal, we have probably never been in a better position.”

See more of The Drum's coverage on measurement and Newfronts at the dedicated section of the website.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.