NBCUniversal is forming a deeper partnership with FreeWheel for digital-like ways

NBCUniversal is taking another step to unify the way it sells its linear and digital inventory through deeper technical integration with its sister company FreeWheel.

Building on a pilot partnership that began in early 2019, FreeWheel is now the leading ad decision technology across NBCU's inventory. The new AutoScheduler tool analyzes ad breaks and dynamically replaces ads. This is how marketers can make addressable TV purchases.

Earlier this year, NBCU launched One Platform, a single place to sell inventory through screens. This closer partnership with FreeWheel brings more digital business practices – like automating and optimizing targeted advertising – to the network and delivering ads across devices.

The technical integration provides FreeWheel information from NBCU's linear TV schedules. With data, AutoScheduler can understand the targeting criteria and campaign goals of a linear ad campaign and help marketers get ads in the right places to meet those goals.

FreeWheel is already the network's digital ad server. Eventually, by merging linear and digital data through AutoScheduler, marketers can move ads between linear and digital environments. For example, if an ad is supposed to run on MSNBC's linear channel but the audience is on the streaming app, AutoScheduler should be able to move that ad from linear to digital in the future.

“The innovation here is giving a central ad tech stack brain, in this case FreeWheel, both the linear and digital information to prepare for a future system where things will be more fluid … things from linear to digital and moving from digital to linear in real time, ”said Ryan McConville, director of ad platforms and operations at NBCU.

Currently, AutoScheduler is based on Nielsen demographics. Benjamin Miller, vice president of product management at FreeWheel, said AutoScheduler should enable the network to sell more audience-based inventory going forward.

"NBCU is really moving on … to really harmonize their supply pools," Miller said.

Technology is just one step away from bringing true dynamic ad insertion to linear television (a medium that is not web-enabled), making auto-replacing ads a challenge. Instead, Miller lays the groundwork for unifying linear and digital video, providing more granular controls for marketers looking to run addressable campaigns.

Both the buy and sell sides are trying to unify their video strategies, and people are watching less linear television and streaming more content. Connected TV usage has increased during the pandemic, while traditional pay-TV subscriptions are expected to decrease by 27 million over the next four years, according to MoffettNathanson.

"If you want to compete with people, you have to simplify the process, and addressable television is … very similar to other digital versions," said Geoffrey Wolinetz, director of sales at FreeWheel. "The more you can add to this pool, the more you can help marketers find their consumers, the better you will be."

While NBCU tries to bring its video offerings under one roof, the TV buying teams are still fragmented. While 58% of TV buying teams in the US have standardized their digital and linear planning process, 46% and 39% of these teams respectively standardized their buying or execution process, according to research by Xandr.

Comcast owns both NBCU and FreeWheel.

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