NBCUniversal Pops The Programmatic Cork On Linear TV

KrishanHow about this for a premiere? Beginning this fall, all NBCUniversal inventory will be available for sale programmatically via the network’s private exchange NBCUx.

Ahead of the upfronts, NBCUniversal has rolled out an offering called NBCUx for Linear TV, which will put additional data and automation in the hands of media planners to apply to buys across NBCU’s entire cable and broadcast portfolio.

It’s important to note that none of that inventory will be bid upon in an auction environment and there won’t be dynamically inserted ads in prime-time program schedules (think of this more as automated reserved). But it marks the first time NBC is applying automated planning options to linear network inventory.

“It is really meant to simplify the process of planning and transacting on linear TV inventory,” said Krishan Bhatia, EVP of business operations and strategy for NBCUniversal, on a call with press on Wednesday. “It is not a real-time bidding tool, [but] it adds a layer of automation that will remove steps from a typical TV workflow process and make us more effective.”

NBCU will make its linear TV inventory available to select agency and demand-side platforms, though it did not specify which ones. It noted that pricing and inventory selection would be subject to approval on NBC’s part, indicating the expansion is not a buyer’s free-for-all.

NBCU has steadily expanded its programmatic sales offering, including last year’s launch of the NBCUx private exchange and improvements to its Audience Targeting Platform.

Late last week, NBC rebranded some of those products into a unified advertiser offering called Audience Studio, the crux of which is a data management platform.

“We’re allowing advertisers and agencies to combine premium NBCU inventory with their own first-party data and a combination of third-party data sources,” said Dan Lovinger, EVP of entertainment ad sales at NBC. “This is a sea change in how we think about creating value for customers.”

Bhatia said NBC’s marching order after last year’s upfront was to develop a suite of data offerings that simplify the process of TV planning and buying across channels and formats.

Although NBC revealed in January to AdExchanger that 10-15% of its 2015 upfront business was transacted programmatically, that was primarily limited to web video and display.

Linear TV was for the most part untouchable to digital planning systems given the nature of the workflow – most national prime-time programming is bought in advance and planners are accustomed to legacy cable and broadcast processes.

And premium sponsorships on top-performing shows will always be direct sold due to the required negotiation aspect.

“This is the first national programmatic TV offering at scale that allows planners to bring data sets and request inventory across the full breadth of our portfolio,” Bhatia said. “We’re neutral to how data can be used to uncover new audiences for advertisers.”

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