NBCUniversal took some swings at Facebook on Monday, including its recent confrontations with Congress over the consumer data nightmare that is Cambridge Analytica.
But there was one thing that was glaringly missing from the media giant’s mega ‘upfront’ presentation to advertisers at Radio City Music Hall in New York: the fact that NBCU has spent the past few years running headfirst toward the data-driven ad targeting that Facebook excels at.
Amazingly, the word ‘data’ was hardly uttered during the nearly 2.5 hour show, during which NBCU talked up the power of television while throwing shade at social media.
NBCU CEO Steve Burke was somewhat gentle: “If you look at the digital landscape, it’s a time of unbelievable change,” he said. “Digital companies are being accused of interfering with people’s privacy … there’s just a lot of change in the landscape.”
Later, NBCU sales chief Linda Yacarrino hit Facebook where it hurts, as she appeared in a pre-taped skit seemingly appearing before Congress weaved together with snippets of Senators grilling Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during his recent testimony on Capital Hill (though she never actually mentioned Facebook).
Besides jabbing at Facebook’s data mishaps, Yacarrino sold hard the power of TV to win hearts and minds, something that in her mind digital media can’t do.
“Nothing brings people together like television, “Yacarrino said on stage following the bit. “I mean come on, no family has ever gathered around a news feed before. The fact is, nothing moves people and product like television.”
“That last click never happens if you don’t make that first impression,” she said. “We’re not in the likes business. We’re in the results business.”
All of NBCU’s indirect criticism of Facebook’s privacy problems and data mishaps were ironic, given how much in recent years the company – and nearly all of the big TV players – have looked to paint themselves as capable of delivering more targeted ads using all sorts of data sets, including people’s credit card histories and recent in-store shopping habits.
Of course, most of these moves preceded news that Facebook had inadvertently allowed third parties access to people’s data, and their friends data, without their knowledge in some cases. The climate around consumer privacy has changed quickly.
The data NBCU uses for ads is pulled anonymously, the company says. And NBCU’s capabilities to target individuals with precise, individualized ads lags far behind that of Facebook or Google.
But as recently as a few months ago the networks were looking to convince ad buyers that they were closing the ad tech gap with the big platforms.
Yet on Monday, the story was about old school power of television advertising.
“It’s about reaching people, real people, real customers, delivered responsibly,” said Yacarrino. “In an environment where their data is protected, and their experience is protected too … When given the choice of what to do with consumer data, here at NBCUniversal, we chose to do the right thing. That’s what leadership is all about.”