i3 | April 01, 2020

Linda Yaccarino, Chairman, Advertising and Partnerships, NBCUniversal

Linda Yaccarino is leading a transformation at Comcast NBCUniversal and Sky, one of the world’s leading media companies. As NBCUniversal’s chairman of advertising and partnerships since 2011, she oversees all premium video monetization across broadcast, cable, and digital; advanced advertising technology; insights and measurement; and business marketing and strategy with advertising revenue totaling nearly $10 billion. With a 1,500-person team, she aims to connect established and emerging brands to hundreds of millions of viewers — driving economic impact for not just her company, but entire industries.

Prior to joining NBCUniversal in 2011, she held roles of increasing responsibility from 1996 to 2011 at Turner Broadcasting System Inc., including serving as executive vice president and COO, Turner Entertainment Advertising, sales and marketing, and acquisitions beginning in 2009. Prior to joining Turner, Yaccarino held various management positions at several media sales outlets. She also serves as independent director of Ascena Retail.

Her CES keynote, “NBCUniversal Reimagines the Future of Entertainment,” took a deep dive into innovation in the entertainment market, with cutting-edge technology and content that entertains and informs across all screens. Hosted by Today’s Natalie Morales, panelists also included Mandy Moore of This Is Us, Terry Crews of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and America’s Got Talent, Pitch Perfect’s Ester Dean and La Reina del Sur’s Kate del Castillo.

Yaccarino also spoke on a CES panel with Jeff Green, CEO of The Trade Desk, about how they are optimizing connected TV revenues and forging new advertising opportunities with its upcoming streaming platform Peacock. With Saturday Night Live, the Olympics, NBC News and its line-up of stars, the platform is expected to debut in April. She also was named “CEO of Tomorrow” by Business Week, one of the Ten Most Powerful Women in TV, and Business Insider’s The 10 People Transforming Advertising, among many honors.

She talked with i3 about how the media and entertainment industries are being transformed. As new technologies disrupt the way consumers search for and consume content, content creators, distributors, marketers and everyone in the ecosystem must change.

Q Can you talk about how streaming is changing the industry and the launch of Peacock?

A Here’s the thing: it’s not streaming that’s changing the industry. It’s people. What audiences do determines and shapes the market. We know audiences are watching all kinds of content, and streaming gives them more choices, so they’re taking advantage of that freedom. It’s interesting to see people seek out alternatives to what could now be considered “legacy” streaming services, as they raise their prices or lose the shows people love. Some people are skeptical of the shiny new offerings that have only one new show or a temporary free trial. Before we know it, consumers are going to start making the hard choices about how many services are really in their budget, or worth their time.

That’s why we built Peacock to serve people first and give them the best experience anywhere in the market. We’ve created a streaming service with timely content, like news and sports and late night, that’s a part of people’s lives and not available anywhere else on streaming. We also pulled together a timeless library of everyone’s favorite movies and shows. On NBCUniversal’s Peacock, our audiences will get all of this unbeatable content at an unbeatable price: free.

Now we also know many of the subscription streaming services are closed off to marketers, which feels shortsighted to me, and honestly doesn’t demonstrate an understanding of the consumer, or their acceptance of that relationship. And because there aren’t really ad-supported streaming services, Peacock gives us the chance to redefine what advertising looks like. It’s an amazing opportunity, because when we get it right, we get to write a whole new playbook for ad-supported video and set the standard for streaming as a whole.

Q How does NBCU represent diverse audiences with unique content?

A Like everything else, we always start with our audiences. At NBCUniversal, our platform reaches more than 90% of Americans — and now, with Sky, more than half a billion people around the world. That’s scale unlike anywhere else. And to serve such a wide range of audiences, and actually give them stories they can’t get enough of, we need to build a diverse slate of content, with a diverse team of creators. That’s why we’re continuing to invest in talent — writers and directors and actors and comedians, people in front of the camera and behind it. We already see the impact across the portfolio. Think about a record-breaking show like This Is Us, to the recent success of Telemundo, to all of the new Peacock originals.

We also see the impact when it comes to advertising. People connect with brands that represent them, so we’re working closely with initiatives like The New Majority Ready Coalition, SeeHer, and ANA’s AIMM to show the real value of telling diverse, creativestories — and push our industry forward on representation. Because the truth is diverse stories are good for business.

We’ll keep building the tallest mountain of premium video on the planet —because at the end of the day, we know content is still queen.

Q Are advertisers using new methods to reach audiences to inspire action?

A The short answer is yes, absolutely. As a publisher, it’s our responsibility to keep improving the consumer experience, and to work with marketers to creatively engage people. We’re the bridge from inspiration to action.

With Peacock, we’ve ditched the limitations of traditional advertising so we could empower brands to engage viewers in new ways. They’ll see voice-enabled interactive ads, action-oriented ads, and more — all tailored toward their unique needs and interests. They’ll be able to call out a specific phrase, or send a notification to their phone, just to take advantage of a special offer. And whether it’s Engagement Ads, On-Command Ads, or ShoppableTV, marketers will have more opportunities to make meaningful, lasting connections that lead to real results.

The best part? It’s just the beginning. This year, we’re doubling down on new ad experiences, democratizing access to our talent, and developing new ad formats that deliver bigger impact. Any marketer looking to partner with us — come on in, our door is wide open.

Q Can you talk about the power of partnerships?

Linda Yaccarino speaks at the NBCUniversal keynote at CES 2020, with panelists, left to right: Ester Dean, Mandy Moore, Natalie Morales, Yaccarino, Kate del Castillo and Terry Crews.

A Partnership is everything. At NBCUniversal, it’s in our DNA. Our entire business model could not exist if companies didn’t come together to create dynamic, entertaining experiences for people. And now, as we reimagine that business model, partnership remains at the center.

And here’s the thing — we know we’re just one company. If we’re actually going to change the industry, the entire industry is going to have to step up to the plate and take big swings with us.

That’s why we need courageous leaders who are willing to stand up and think differently. We need people willing to try new things and push back against the way things have always been done. We need companies brave enough to actually listen to consumers, and put them first, and reflect the future they’ve already built.

Incremental change just doesn’t cut it anymore. You can’t go an inch; you must go the mile. That’s what we’re doing with our new One Platform model, with Peacock, and so many other things. We’re so glad to have incredible brands, technology companies and agencies partner with us on this journey, and we’re always looking for more. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that there’s no progress in our industry without partnership, and we’re proud that the best companies turn to us and trust us as partners time and time again. I’ll say it again to anyone who wants to change media and advertising for the better — our door is always open.

Q How important is content and storytelling to connect audiences across multiple platforms?

A Great stories are the heart of everything we do at NBCUniversal. Always have been. It was true when we were in radio and will be as we start streaming. Because technology always changes. But the emotional power of storytelling to entertain and inspire and shape the world? That’s timeless.And we know this as viewers. Nobody gets hung up on a network, a time slot or a screen. People just seek out their favorites and see NBCUniversal as one giant home to everything they love. They’ll watch on linear, online,on their phone, it doesn’t matter — wherever great

content lives, they find it. We’ll keep building the tallest mountain of premium video on the planet — because at the end of the day, we know content is still queen.It’s also why we’re going all in on the One Platform strategy I introduced at CES. One Platform reflects how people actually watch content, and it helps marketers reach their target audiences wherever they watch on our Platform with one simple buy. Because the only way to connect with people across multiple screens is to have the best stories on any screen and meet people wherever they’re watching.

Q What is personalization and how does it work?

A Good personalization puts people first. It means that you, the viewer, see the right ad at the right time. For the longest time, the folks without ads have argued that consumers don’t like ads. But that’s not true. If we’re thinking about buying a new car, we want to learn about the latest models. If we’re thinking about going to see a movie, we want to know what’s in theaters. So relevant advertising adds value to the viewing experience.

Now the question becomes, how do you make ads relevant? CMOs know it’s about merging the art and the science, great storytelling with great data. Because when you have great data, you can make sure that consumers only see ads that mean something to them, in a context that’s actually meaningful.

That’s how we built Peacock. When I open the app, the programming I see is going to be different from what you see — because we each want to watch something different. The same goes for ads. They’ll be tailored to my interests, to my location, and they might even feature talent from my favorite shows. That’s personalization. But personalization is so much more than ads. It’s about building relationships with our consumers. In this way, personalization — and a customer-first mindset —should influence everything we do: from operational and product infrastructure, R&D, to culture. In other words, personalization, and the marketers who prioritize it, can set the tone for how an entire company operates.

Q Will the future of entertainment be interactive with the evolution of NBCU?

A I can’t predict the future, but I know that whatever happens, we’re going to be prepared for it. That’s because at NBCUniversal, we’ve built our platform around the idea that change is a constant. In some ways, that’s where we’ve been heading for a while. We’ve already seen a half century’s worth of change in the last five years. Commercial and content innovations. Streaming platforms. The rise of a global premium marketplace. And like you said, interactivity. And what we have today is only the beginning.Right now, you can see an outfit you like on TV, scan a QR code with your phone, and buy it within seconds. On Peacock, you’ll be able to literally explore ads —browse the makeup counter or check out a new car. 

My current favorite: you’ll be able to speak into your remote and get a discount sent directly to your device. It’s interactive, but with a purpose.Because here’s the big takeaway — whether we’re talking about interactivity, or new kinds of ads — the future of our business is simple: it’s audiences, viewers, fans. It’s about giving you the best content, the best advertising, and the best experience. To do that, we’re willing to change everything — to throw out every playbook. Believe me, the best is yet to come.

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