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Digital Transformation Future of TV NBC Universal

NBCU chief data officer: ‘We’re off to a head start regarding cookieless identity’


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

January 6, 2022 | 7 min read

As cookies crumble, NBCUniversal is gunning for the top slot on the media and entertainment advertising leaderboard. The media giant yesterday debuted its own first-party identity solution — and amid an increasingly crowded field, the company feels confident it can outplay its competitors. John Lee, the company’s recently appointed chief data officer, explains why.

Spotlight shining on man in crowd of similar looking men in suits

NBCU joins a growing cast of major media players to debut their own ID solutions

NBCUniversal has unveiled the new NBCUnified, an ID solution designed to centralize user-level data from across the NBCU suite — which includes content and entertainment properties like NBC, NBC Sports, Fandango, Vudu, Peacock, Orlando Universal Studios and many more. With this information aggregated into one cloud-based platform, advertisers can gain a more comprehensive view of audiences and use this information to make decisions regarding ad targeting and measurement — without relying on cookies.

NBCUnified encompasses three central components: NBCU ID, Data Marketplace and Partner Integrations. The ID, tied to NBCU’s anonymized first-party data, enables advertisers to get a fairly clear picture of who a given consumer is. The company is launching NBCUnified with about 150 million individual IDs, all of which represent real consumers interacting across NBCU’s suite of content and experiential offerings.

Then, in the Data Marketplace — housed in a clean room that eliminates personal identifiable information — NBCU aggregates information about consumer behavior and preferences that it gleans via IDs. “[This is data] outside of just content consumption — [it includes] the world of buying movie tickets or going through the turnstile at the theme park. We turn all of that first-party interaction data into data attributes in the hundreds and ultimately thousands,” says the company’s recently appointed chief data officer John Lee, who formerly served as chief strategy officer at Merkle. These behavioral attributes enable advertisers to better understand their customers on an individual level. Finally, NBCUnified includes Partner Integrations, which ensure that IDs and data attributes are interoperable across the adtech ecosystem.

Identifying, targeting, measuring and optimizing — sans cookie

The launch of NBCUnified, according to Lee, is indicative of NBCU’s broader plan of action to take a leading role in offering addressable media in anticipation of cookie deprecation. “Facebook has done the best job within the social media sector of taking really rich data about what people like and follow and turning that into advertising performance. Amazon has taken the pole position within the retail media and e-commerce media space,” Lee says. “In the world of media entertainment, with CTV growing so quickly, there has been no clear leader there. That's our goal: to be the leading data-driven ad platform within the media and entertainment space.”

NBCUnified infographic

Launching NBCUnified is a crucial step in achieving these ends. The new centralized platform aims to help advertisers find and target relevant audiences, create custom marketing strategies suited to those audiences and measure the impacts of their efforts with greater precision and accuracy.

Lee gives an example of an automotive manufacturer launching a new luxury electric vehicle who is trying to find and target relevant audiences. With NBCUnified, the automaker can marry their first-party data regarding potential electric vehicle buyers with data about NBCU users to find intersections between the two. “Let’s say… these EV buyers are heavy consumers of CNBC business news and they're also reality show superfans who watch Below Deck Mediterranean and The Voice. Now the brand has a better understanding of how their buyers consume media entertainment, thanks to those insights. They can use our first-party data attributes in combination with theirs to build brand new segments, models and audiences. So, their pool for creating new audiences just got bigger.” Plus, with the new ID solution, the advertiser is also able to target individual consumers across the NBCU ecosystem with custom content. “You can imagine a world in which…there might be a product placement opportunity for that EV In an episode of Below Deck on Bravo,” he says.

And beyond audience-building and user-level targeting, Lee points out that NBCUnified is also designed to help advertisers better measure campaign performance. “We're not using panels. We’re not making inferences. We know exactly who [a given consumer is] within the NBCU media ecosystem,” he says. “So, when it's time to do things like performance-based attribution, or even just frequency measurement… that can be done really precisely against this very specific audience. We see [specifically] who saw the ad, and depending on the measurement system… we can see whether they visit the website to build their car, and in certain cases, we can support seeing whether they made it into the dealership.”

The measurement component is especially critical in the media owner’s eyes. Per a statement released Wednesday, “NBCUnified is the backbone of NBCUniversal’s overall Measurement initiative. NBCUnified will serve as the platform providing blinded, privacy-minded person-level and household identity and the data spine that underpins the new measurement yardsticks the company is developing.” Measurement — especially across the increasingly fragmented streaming ecosystem — is among NBCU’s key advertising priorities. In August of last year, the company issued an RFP seeking new, innovative cross-channel CTV measurement solutions amid the fallout of Nielsen’s Media Rating Council accreditation suspension.

NBCUnified is the first product launched by NBCU’s new enterprise data organization — which Lee heads — and builds on the company’s data and identity vision spelled out in early 2021. It will roll out officially in Q2 of this year.

‘We’re off to a head start’

Ultimately, Lee, like many experts in the media space, predict that as the demise of the third-party cookie approaches and both tech companies and lawmakers face mounting pressure to create better protections for consumer data, major brands and publishers everywhere will pivot primarily toward first-party data solutions. He anticipates that the proliferation of new ID solutions will continue and that industry players will stop holding out hope for a cookie replacement and begin developing better data capture-focused approaches.

As part of this shift, Lee estimates that things will get more competitive, too, as ad dollars begin funneling to the biggest media players with the best first-party infrastructures. “We believe it's going to get harder,” he says. There's going to be an attitude of, “Let's just hunt for this audience anywhere on the internet using data and automation. There's going to be more consolidated spend from advertisers to a smaller number of big media owners who really have big reach, and have very direct first-party relationships that generate that audience data.” The challenge for NBCU and its competitors will be to carve out a competitive advantage amid the mass.

And while Lee readily acknowledges that NBCU is not “naive enough to believe that the primary source of intelligence about who the consumer is will live with the publisher” – he notes that media owners’ role in the ecosystem is “additive to what the advertiser and agencies are [doing]” – he does feel bullish on NBCU’s position in the media and entertainment sector specifically. “Relative to our direct competitors… with NBCUnified, we’re kind of off to a head start.”

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