NBCU Creates Metric Combining Linear and Digital Ad Views

Two months before the crucial upfront market, NBCUniversal has created a new metric that unifies linear and digital viewing of an advertising campaign.

NBCU calls its new metric CFlight and says it is comprised of Nielsen measurement of linear viewing and digital measurement combining data from comScore, Moat and other research companies that counts co-viewing but holds digital impressions to tougher, TV-type standards at a time when the measurement and effectiveness of Silicon Valley giants like Facebook and Google are being questioned on Madison Avenue.

“Consumer behavior has changed the way our content is consumed, and it’s time for metrics to catch up and show the true power of premium video,” said Linda Yaccarino, Chairman, Advertising and Client Partnerships. ”As our industry questions the strength of digital-first advertising, we are guaranteeing that campaigns running around NBCUniversal content, regardless of platform, are reaching true, valuable audiences at scale.”

The move comes at a time when TV ad revenues are flat to falling and programmers complain that declining traditional ratings don’t fully measure audiences as more viewing takes place on digital and over-the-top platforms. Having one metric makes it easier for networks to sell their digital video inventory, and gives them the flexibility to meet advertiser guarantees by using digital impressions when linear impressions fall short.

NBCU, with ad sales topping $10 billion annualy, has been discussing the new metric with large media agencies for months and several endorsed NBCU’s approach, which allows them to buy ads on premium video based on a single metric with a single guarantee at a time when the media environment is becoming more complex.

“Since the start of time-shifted and TV anywhere viewing, GroupM has championed expanded audience measurement, first C3 and then C7, to capture the total audiences of our partners’ programs and our clients’ advertising,” said Lyle Schwartz, Chief Investment Officer, GroupM. “NBCU’s move is a step in the right direction, consistent with work we’ve being doing market-wide to get to measurement of commercial viewing, in addition to more complete program ratings. Measurement must keep up with the fluidity of consumption to justify our clients’ investments.”

NBCU and GroupM got together a decade agoto do the first upfront ad deal based on C3 ratings, which measure the average commercial viewership within a program including the growing amount of delayed viewing on DVRs and on demand.

NBCU gave its new metric a test run earlier this year during the Winter Olympics when it sold ads based on what it called Total Audience Delivery, a number that combined linear and digital ad viewing.

NBCU executive VP for sports ad sales Dan Lovinger said the vast majority of its $920 million in advertising sale during the Olympics were made using a metric similar to CFlight. While traditional TV ratings for the Olympics were down, NBCU was able to deliver impressions to advertisers using viewing on digital platforms including Roku and Apple TV.

Lovinger said NBCU expected to use CFlight during the upfront.

NBCU has also been among the programmers pushing advertisers to use data to buy more highly targeted audiences, such as people intending to buy a pickup truck. But Lovinger said that age and sex demographics were likely to be the predominant way the network will be transacting business during the upfront.

Lovinger said it was unclear whether using CFlight would give NBCU more ratings points to sell and wouldn’t discuss how ad prices based on CFlight might compare to prices based on C3 or C7.

“We’re not necessarily creating new supply,” he said. “We’ve been selling a lot of almost all of our video inventory. We’re just not able to sell it in conjunction with linear and importantly, we’ve never been abal to manage a holistics planning process with our advertisers and agencies between linear and digital.”

In addition to GroupM, big media buying agencies Magna and Omnicom endorsed NBCUs approach.

“As consumers continue to shift their viewing seamlessly across platforms, it is essential for us to develop measurement and currency that counts and values those audiences in a similar manner,” said David Cohen, President, North America, Magna. “NBCU has taken a significant step forward in developing a methodology that capitalizes on linear television currency, and enhances it with industry-leading digital measurement to arrive at a universal view. We are eager to continue to pioneer this space with NBCU as we push the pace of innovation in the cross-screen measurement arena.”

“Consumers engage with the premium content they love – and the brands that sponsor that content – across a complex web of screens, applications and platforms,” said John Swift, CEO, Investment & Integrated Services North America, Omnicom Media Group. “CFlight is an important step towards better measurement in a cross-platform video environment. We believe measurement which reflects the nuances inherent with each of these very different consumer viewing environments is a crucial prerequisite to optimizing cross-platform advertising efficiency.”

Nielsen and comScore have been working on cross-platform metrics, but those efforts have been moving slowly.

“The industry just couldn’t wait any more for this in our opinion,” Lovinger said.

”We’re announcing now s because nobody else is going to move this forward on their own like we can and we will.” He said. “It’s going to allow us to address the needs of clients. We’re offering one unified measurement, which is something that I think they’ve asked for. We’re delivering one post, one deal and we’re able to tap into the digital landscape in a way that we think is a more responsible way to look at digital measurement. And hopefully that results in more demand for digital product at ultimately higher pricing.”

Like C3 when it was first adopted NBCU’s CFlight is not yet accredited by the Media Rating Council, which oversees media measurement.

In a statement, Nielsen said it supported NBCU activity, and said it would continue to work with the programmer and the rest of the industry.

“Nielsen’s commitment to evolving measurement of the media landscape has been unwavering over the past 68 years, and is even more resolute in the face of rapid fragmentation that we see today," the measurement company said in a statement. "

"We support NBCU’s efforts to evolve measurement, and Nielsen’s TV and digital ad currency play a critical role. We’ve been working closely with NBCU and other key industry leaders on solutions to expand the currency definition so that it takes into account cross-device consumer viewing behavior as well as media owners’ desire for more flexibility in receiving currency credit for audiences to ads. NBCU’s announcement today is a reflection of this work, and we look forward to our continued partnership as we collectively develop and implement new innovations in measurement,” Nielsen said.

NBCU's CFlight’s digital measurement creates a duration based metric that is similar to TV.snd requires a 100% ad completion rate to be counted. “We think that it is a necessity for digital platform to deliver that same level of transparency and be held to the same standards as linear and we think it’s a differentiator for our clients,” Lovinger said.

NBCU will be doing to CFlight calculations based on third-party numbers available to media buyers and clients. It intends to work closely with the agencies to fine-tune the metric to account for de-duplication of viewers using multiple screens and other details. 

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.