NBCUniversal Will Permanently Reduce Linear Ads Amid COVID-19 Crisis

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As the TV industry continues to grapple with the impact of COVID-19, NBCUniversal is taking new steps to assist its marketing partners during the pandemic.

The company is reducing the number of ads across several categories in its portfolio—including news and late-night—in what ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino says is a permanent effort to move some of the ad formats and innovations (announced at the Peacock investors day in January) over to linear TV.

Beginning immediately, NBCUniversal will be coming with different approaches to roll back ads in an effort to “do what’s right for our audience and marketers,” Yaccarino, chairman of advertising and partnerships, NBCU, wrote in a new blog post.

The ad reductions will occur in news programming, late-night NBC and Bravo shows, reality programming, competition shows like America’s Got Talent and other cable originals.

The company did not specify exactly how much ad time will be reduced, or whether the changes will come via eliminating ad pods entirely or reducing their size, as NBCU will be taking different approaches to various programs. In some cases, pods will be shrunk; in others, a spot might be replaced with a shoppable ad. Or NBCUniversal’s 60-second “prime pods” might be replaced with a highlight from a late-night show.

The changes will be permanent. NBCUniversal does not plan on reverting to its current ad loads at the conclusion of the pandemic.

While more viewers are tuning into various platforms—research says total consumption on NBCUniversal has increased 27% since consumers began social distancing last month—Yaccarino said “some marketers across every industry have asked to pause their advertising plans or shift their messages, and they’re looking for ideas, tools, and strategies from their most trusted partners.”

The reduction gives NBCU more flexibility to work with marketers who want to pull their ad spend or shift their messaging in light of the pandemic.

The company had planned to eventually move the ad innovations rolled out during Peacock’s investors day to its linear networks as part of a long-term strategy to reduce ads across its portfolio, and decided to accelerate those efforts during the COVID-19 crisis.

At the same time, NBCU is providing free resources to marketers who want to change their creative messaging and stay connected to viewers, but might not have the means to do so.

“Our teams are scaling our new commerce technologies, while waiving technology fees. Simultaneously, we’re opening up more creative services, building custom marketing materials for more clients, and giving our partners more access to remote production teams, brand assets, and talent—all without the associated fees. On top of that, we’re offering free editing and translation services to help brands reach people in both English and Spanish, and even donating inventory in addition to their existing media schedules so brands can get their public service messages out,” said Yaccarino.

NBCUniversal is the latest media company to begin working with advertisers to navigate the crisis.

As buyers worked to determine their Plan Bs following the cancellation of live sports, including March Madness, last month, “it’s not a one size fits all,” one buyer recently told Adweek, speaking anonymously: “We’re going through it client by client, and understanding what their needs are and what [the network’s] needs are.”

Fox Sports held virtual town halls with agencies last week to help them and their clients prepare and plan for the return of MLB, Nascar, NFL and other live sports. Last month, Disney ad sales chief Rita Ferro updated clients on the company’s efforts to help advertisers find alternatives for their live sports ad buys.

NBCUniversal is still reeling from the ripple effects of the COVID-19 crisis. On March 24, the Summer Olympics in Tokyo were postponed to 2021, leaving the company with a $1.25 billion-plus ad revenue hole for 2020.

“Even as we face this challenging moment for our nation and our world, we can start building a path forward that will last long after this crisis ends,” said Yaccarino.

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