A parade of Madison Avenue’s top executives streamed into a posh Manhattan restaurant in hopes of starting a conversation orchestrated by NBCUniversal that aims to drum up new remedies for some of the industry’s long-festering problems.
Among those spotted stepping into New York’s Pool eatery – the heir to a space previously inhabited by The Four Seasons – were advertising luminaries such as Irwin Gotlieb, chairman of WPP’s massive GroupM ad-buying unit; David Levy, president of Time Warner’s Turner; and Ed Erhardt, the longtime overseer of ESPN’s ad sales group. Viacom CEO Bob Bakish was listed as taking part, and attendees expected to hear the first public remarks from Brian Lesser, who was named to supervise a new advertising and analytics unit expected to be part of a combined AT&T-Time Warner.
NBCU called the meeting – a rare convocation of executives from fierce rivals – earlier this month – as the industry faces a mounting list of challenges to its ability to monetize advertising. Technology has granted couch potatoes a dizzying array of new ways to unhitch themselves from their traditional TV set – and the media buyers and sellers can’t agree upon a standard set of rules governing how ads are placed in emerging venues like mobile screens and streaming video, nor can they reach consensus on how to measure the viewers who watch them.
“We’ve got a problem,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of ad sales and client partnerships at NBCU. If the industry can’t come together, she said, it risks seeing the current ad-supported ecosystem that supports the industry eroding over the next decade. “We can’t leave without a meaningful plan for action and follow-up.”
She said the company was willing to try new things, such as adopting new measures of advertising effectiveness, or making the experience of watching video more pleasant for consumers. “We might even reduce commercial load across the board,” she said.
To be sure, the convocation could be nothing more than a dog-and-pony show – an assemblage of hand-wringers giving voice to longstanding concerns without taking much action. But at a time when multiple companies are rolling out individual solutions – Turner, Fox Networks and Viacom have joined together to foster audience buying, while GroupM hopes to put in place a system to measure audiences no matter what screen they choose to watch their favorite program – the meeting underscores some of the very real risks the industry faces if it can’t start to agree on new methodologies.
Participants were scheduled to hear from Gary Bettman, the Commissioner of the National Hockey League (an NBCU partner) and IBM CMO Michelle Peluso about how to reach consumers using multiple forms of media. Meanwhile, Twitter COO Anthony Noto and Bob Rupczynski, McDonalds’ global vice president of media and customer relations, were slated to discuss measurement, an issue that continues to flummox a raft of ad players who see audience numbers associated with TV dwindling.
More to come.