NBCU Ad Chief Says Anthem Protests Hurt NFL Ratings, But Brands Hold Firm
Echoing sentiments from CBS boss Leslie Moonves yesterday, NBC Universal’s head of advertising, Linda Yaccarino, said that no advertisers have bailed on NFL broadcasts on NBC. Nevertheless, she does believe anthem protests by players have hurt ratings.
“I don’t think there’s any way to prove it, but I do think it has affected the ratings,” she said during a conversation billed as a “fireside chat” with Oath CEO Tim Armstrong held for employees at the Manhattan offices of Verizon’s media agency, R/GA. While NBC’s advertisers have not complained publicly about the protests, as the head of Papa John’s did this week, Yaccarino described plenty of angst behind the scenes.
“There is a long list of advertisers that have made themselves very clear: ‘If you continue to cover the political coverage of the issue, we will not be part of the NFL,’” Yaccarino said. “Think about it—they have half the country that is cheering about that and half the country that is emailing them saying, ‘Don’t do that.’ That’s a real thing.”
Armstrong said when the NFL looks to make new video deals in 2022, when current broadcast contracts expire, Verizon and Oath would not rule out a bid. “As a media company, you want to be in places where people are the most passionate,” he said.
The sentiments came at the end of a wide-ranging discussion involving a pair of execs whose original realms (Yaccarino TV and Armstrong tech) are increasingly intertwined. They took up issues of content distribution, modernizing legacy companies and competing and/or collaborating with FANG companies (Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Google).
Yaccarino, whose forceful annual upfront messages to advertisers at Radio City Music Hall have emphasized “brand safety” and holding large digital companies to account, stressed the importance of the ongoing discussion in Congress about digital advertising. She channeled years of frustration among traditional media players, especially those managing the $75 billion TV ad sector, which has come under heavy pressure from digital rivals who are siphoning away ads while also luring away viewers. Some of that traction, she maintained, has been gained by not-entirely-legitimate methods which reached their apotheosis with the spread of bogus social content during the 2016 election.
“We’re at a really important inflection point in the market,” she said. “What’s going to really affect this over the next three years is an absolute, maybe legislated, discipline that needs to come to the digital space. …. Whether it’s influence on elections, whether it’s a discipline when it comes to measurement, or a damn basic respect for the consumer and putting the right ad with the right content where it was intended, and you don’t have a consequence if you don’t behave that way? There’s enough friction that that’s going to go.”
If NBCU and other companies “came together and said, ‘Dammit, we’re not going to take it anymore. We act with discipline and we act with integrity and we have premium content to distribute widely and this is how we’re doing it, all of that has to stop and is going to stop. We can’t move the industry forward because there’s mistrust in the relationship. I think you’re going to see a real disruption in that area and a coming of age.”