The head of sales as NBCUniversal just issued a stark warning to the ad industry

  • NBCU’s sales boss says that ad agencies are holding up the TV business from competing with tech giants like Google and Facebook.
  • The executive hinted that the media giant is planning an aggressive shake up the legacy TV ad model next year.
  • “We transact the way we transact…because of the limits of the holding companies,” said Yaccarino, referring to the ad agency giants like WPP and Publicis.

NBCUniversal’s sales chief Linda Yaccarino thinks ad agencies are moving way too slow in embracing data and technology. She’s not going to wait for them to get their act together.

Speaking during an interview session at the ad agency RGA in New York on Friday, Yaccarino said that she wants to push the TV ad industry to embrace more elements of digital advertising — using software, algorithms and reams of data to improve ad targeting.

She acknowledged that is risky, given that her company has made billions selling TV ads the old fashioned way: running ads that reach the whole country at once in shows like “This Is Us,” and guaranteeing advertisers that they will reach very broad swaths of the population (like adults between age 18 and 49). That’s even though they sell lots of these ads using phone calls and faxes.

But given the pressure everyone in advertising is feeling from the escalating power of Google and Facebook (and increasingly Amazon), NBCU needs to up its ‘programmatic’ ad game. That means eventually delivering ads to consumers in a much more targeted, precise fashion.

Yet Yaccarino said Madison Avenue is simply not ready.

“We transact the way we transact…because of the limits of the holding companies,” said Yaccarino, referring to the ad agency giants like WPP and Publicis. Several of these companies have reported subpar earnings of late.

Yaccarino said that she’ll have conversations with her large ad agency partners about her desire to push toward a much more digitally-driven approach to TV ads, and “they are completely paralysed,” since agencies are too fixated on protecting their legacy business.

So without being too specific, Yaccarino said by next season, NBCU plans to dramatically shake up the way it transacts in TV advertising, whether agencies are ready or not. “You’ll see a very aggressive step out of our company to challenge that legacy,” she said.

Among the other highlights from Yaccarino’s interview:

  • She predicted that digital media companies may face legislation, given recent events, without actually mentioning Congress or Russia. These companies, she said, have had their level of trust among marketers “dissipated.”
  • No advertisers have pulled out of NFL games on NBC in light of the recent round of players kneeling during the national anthem. But marketers have been clear that they no longer want NBC covering those protests on the air. Brands have said, “we will not be part of the NFL if you continue covering it,” she said. “I do think it has impacted ratings.”

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