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Cross-Platform Ad Deals Take Center Stage at This Year's Upfront

On May 21, NBC Universal launched its second annual "Healthy Week," wherein it sells packages of ads to clients with health messages across an array of more than a dozen NBCU and Comcast properties. The properties involved, including NBC, Bravo, Telemundo, Daily Candy and Exercise TV, among others, all develop special health-related content to create highly relevant environments for the ads.

General Mills was happy to be among the returning clients to the program and it's easy to understand why. The cereal maker's participation last year resulted in a 40% boost in brand recall and a 58% lift in product "likability" for its Cheerios ads that appeared during the initiative, compared to the same spots that aired in earlier programs.

Explaining the client's Healthy Week renewal, Rick Hosfield, VP content, planning and distribution for General Mills, credits the media company for creating a "great platform across their vast portfolio of assets that will showcase the health credentials of our brands."

The Healthy Week project is just one in a series of initiatives developed by NBCU's integrated strategic marketing unit that packages company assets in ways it believes makes it easier for clients to target specific audiences. The company also says viewers are more engaged, with the different networks creating special content for its viewers while the marketing team creates customized ads for the clients (often including NBCU talent).

"We make it contextually relevant and have the ability to mobilize the entire portfolio around an important topic," says Debra Goetz, a VP within the NBCU integrated sales marketing unit, which just launched a new effort called Hispanics@NBCU.

NBCU's offerings and positive client feedback illustrate the growing appeal of multiplatform ad deals-deals that both sellers and buyers say will command greater attention during this year's continuing upfront season talks.

According to Goetz, while there's not a single formula for doing deals, clients increasingly earmark a certain amount of money for a given multiplatform initiative during the upfront, with details ironed out later.

Like NBCU, Turner Broadcasting has access to a plethora of media platforms-from TV to Internet, mobile and print-that it packages in various ways for clients. But according to Linda Yaccarino, executive VP/COO, Tuner Entertainment ad sales, marketing and acquisitions, the company focuses more directly on specific clients and less on theme packages that NBCU is known for.

"We don't take an audience demo or an initiative and present it to clients," she says. "Instead we sit with them and talk about their new product launches [and goals] and consumer segments they want to reach and then put together a platform offering that speaks to those targets."

Last fall, for example, it created a three-screen package that combined its Major League Baseball coverage with Conan O'Brien's new late show for a handful of sponsors that included AT&T.

Most clients, says Yaccarino, understand that with today's media landscape, ad buys frequently have to extend across multiple platforms to be as effective as a straightforward TV spot buy was a decade ago.

"Now, most clients task us with coming up with programs that go well beyond the 30-second spot," she says.

Certainly that's what buyers are looking for in many, if not most, instances. "I would say that research has shown that when consumers are exposed to messages both on-air and online, one plus one does equal three many times," says David Lang, president, Mindshare Entertainment. "Multiplatform touch points are very important."

While that's true in many cases, sometimes one platform is just right, says Greg Castronuovo, president, OMD West. "We look at content, context and environment," he says. "If engagement increases via online and offline, fine," but the research has to be there to justify the use of both platforms, he adds.

And while TV is still considered the "lead" platform for most deals, that could become less true over time, Castronuovo says. Last year, he notes, OMD did a mobile-only campaign for client Dockers in a bid to help reposition the brand.

That said, he adds, "Overall, we love the fact that there are so many options because it presents better opportunities to engage consumers in much deeper and profound ways."

Even better, of course, will be the day when all network cross-platform offerings can be bought via a single cost-per-thousand viewer currency. The industry is getting there. The CW began doing it last year and Fox said at its upfront presentation that it would sell TV, online (including Hulu and and possibly VOD and mobile all with a single CPM metric. Turner has been doing it with select programs that will include Conan next season.

"All the networks have been doing it to some extent, just not officially," says Castronuovo, stressing that the technique is a work in progress. That said, he adds, to the extent that it streamlines the multiplatform buying process, "we're all for it."