NBCU Adds First-Time Sales of TV Ads via Programmatic Tools

There’s a sea change at NBCUniversal, which will, for the first time, begin selling some linear TV ad space to advertisers using programmatic tools and advanced data targeting. But the move isn’t as broad as it sounds and requires some parsing. Starting this fall, advertisers will be able to use their own data sets and ad-buying technology to buy on NBC, USA and Syfy. But this isn’t the “real-time bidding” found in digital advertising and marketers won’t be able to cherry-pick individual shows.

The Wall Street Journal points out that the new offering is “essentially an expansion of NBCUx, a program that allows brands to buy targeted ads in Web video content,” not to be confused with NBCU’s ATP (Audience Targeting Platform), which relied on set-top box data from parent company Comcast to steer advertisers to better shows. These ad deals, adds WSJ, “were still negotiated and executed the old fashioned way, with lots of calls and emails.”

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What’s new is NBCU’s quasi-embrace of a more “programmatic” ad buying methodology, a big deal since the TV business in general has “hesitated to go too far down the programmatic path for fear of commoditizing prices and losing control.”

“Buyers can build media plans of their own and request inventory as needed throughout the year,” said NBCU executive Krishan Bhatia. Advertisers can choose what buying software they use, find ad inventory via their own determined data sets and end up with a media plan without talking to anyone at NBC.

This will also differ from digital media in that national TV advertising isn’t capable of real-time, “dynamic ad insertion,” adds Bhatia. Advertisers won’t be able to purchase inventory in auctions but rather in “private marketplaces for marketers” in the upfront season or throughout the year.

“You can buy ads for programs airing within a week, though NBCU will look to compress that window over time,” reports WSJ. “Advertisers will be able to find out which shows and networks their ads are running on after the fact,” although “just because you clicked a button” doesn’t mean the ad will automatically appear.