NBCU Guarantees Butts in Seats for Movie Studio

NBCUniversal, looking to make more changes in the traditional TV advertising model of selling eyeballs, said it guaranteed the STXfilms movie studio its commercials would sell movie tickets and delivered, using data to put butts in theater seats.

Networks have been raising the curtain on ways to make commercials more effective and to show advertisers how much sales activity can be attributed to TV campaigns the way the digital media companies grabbing more marketing dollars promise to.

Normally, TV networks guarantee that a certain number of people in a given demographic group will watch the commercials that interrupt shows. By instead guaranteeing results, NBCU, part of Comcast, is being among the most aggressive in flipping the script.

Last year, NBCU changed how audiences for its commercials are accounted for with CFlight, which includes ads viewed both on TV and on digital platforms. It also created ways to put the spotlight on the impact its campaigns have on an advertiser’s business, be it getting viewers to go to websites or auto dealerships.

Related: Simulmedia Adopts NBCU's CFlight as it Adds OTT Spots

Now, NBCU said it worked with STXFilms to produce a deal in which it guaranteed a business outcome for the first time, in this case selling movie tickets to the January release The Upside, which stars Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston and Nicole Kidman.

Adding data about transactions at its Fandango movie business to other targeting capabilities of its Audience Studio, NBCU was able to optimize and evaluate the media used for the campaign for The Upside.

Cutting to the chase, the result was opening week ticket sales of $20.4,million, topping the box office rankings and the studio’s expectations. The film continued to do well in its second and third week, grossing $76.1 million. STX did not disclose how much it spent on TV advertising, but it would have received additional make good spots had the campaign failed to meet its goals.

“Our focus is to align with partners who invest in driving business outcomes via effective data activation and measurement,” said Amy Elkins, STXfilms executive VP, Media and Marketing Innovation. “NBCUniversal and its Audience Studio team are transforming our industry beyond simple targeting to smart data usage and driving actual results.”

NBCU began working with STX last year on ways to optimize campaigns against the movie goers they thought would be interested in particular films.

Rather than rely solely on a TV rating, STX and NBC prioritized transactional outcomes utilizing attribution data from Fandango to gauge effectiveness of advanced targeting and optimization, the companies said.. The program used a performance-valuation model that was directly connected to the volume of showtime searches and evaluating an increase in ticket purchases.

After using a couple of films as rehearsal, NBCU guaranteed sales for The Upside.

“Video is the most effective advertising medium, yet it has been tied to traditional metrics for too long. We want to prove how each dollar spent yields a direct business result and this is a big step forward on that journey,” said Brian Norris, senior VP, NBCUniversal Audience Studio. “We’re holding ourselves accountable and in partnering with STXfilms we’ll work to move people to action – one ticket at a time.”

NBCU and STXfilms will next work together on a campaign for the studio’s first animated feature film, Uglydolls, which comes out on May 3.

NBCU’s TV work with STX is particularly interesting because NBCU owns its own movie studio, Universal. NBCU declined to comment on whether these guaranteed box-office goosing techniques would be ushered in for upcoming Universal film releases.

Last year NBCU said it was measuring the business outcomes for clients in several categories, including automotive, consumer electronics and wireless.

A cottage industry of analytics firms, such as Data Plus Math have sprung up over the past couple of years to attribute business results to TV advertising.

Working with Data Plus Math, A+E Networks during last year's upfront made five deals with advertisers guaranteeing business outcomes such as store visits or website traffic.

One of the earliest companies using audience data to more precisely target TV audiences, Simulmedia, began guaranteeing better business outcomes than traditional campaigns in 2015.

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.