Comcast weds Sky, NBCU ad tech – honeymoon set for US or Europe?

The unification between Comcast infrastructure and Sky technology has extended to advertising in the latest move – aligning Sky’s revered AdSmart assets with NBC Universal’s Audience Studio. The ultimate aim is to provide better international reach and measurement for brands, suggesting Europe should prepare for an influx of US brands. But is AdSmart good enough to make the trip in the opposite direction and apply its trade in the US? We think so.

Audience Studio, NBCU’s targeted ad technology, is being rolled into Sky’s addressable advertising technology, keeping the name AdSmart as an umbrella term for Comcast’s advertising technology from now on. As well as giving Sky itself direct control over the addressable advertising segment, AdSmart is also positioned to sell advertising for other operators and broadcasters – in much the same way Comcast does in the US.

It will form an advertising behemoth feasting on data from 50 million set tops – being put towards something called an AI-powered contextual media planning tool for TV. This entails slotting ads into relevant US content with the aim of bringing consumers an “organic viewing experience.”

The original SkySmart ad technology was built around Cisco technologies, making Sky’s recent investment in Synamedia an apt one. The NDS spin off has promised to deliver online video advertising with systems like AdSmart and to supply operators with better big data. The company has spoken about supplying a similar system to Adsmart – which allows both addressable advertising on the broadcast system and push VoD storage of adverts on local DVRs, as well as programmatic sales of online video adverts. Synamedia’s fabled chairman Abe Peled teased at IBC 2018 that Vodafone Germany has been invited to share its data with Sky Deutschland to create a powerhouse of German TV advertising.

AdSmart also appeals due to its flexibility in being integrated with third party APIs, for example from Cadent Technology (née Black Arrow), which was selected by Liberty Global in December 2018 to deploy a cloud-based platform to enable targeting of ads to households within its cable TV services.

AdSmart has risen in popularity even to the extent of inking a deal with rival UK operator Virgin Media in June 2017 for programmatic advertising. This linked Liberty Global’s ad system with AdSmart to allow programmatic deals to be offered across both in one pass – meaning more programmatic purchases directly from both operators.

As well as adding AI elements to the ad mix, a few months back Comcast said NBCU was planning to fully incorporate some new technology into its addressable offering sometime this year, called Blockgraph. The idea is to create a secure path for data and information sharing, but Blockgraph is built specifically for the TV industry, described by Comcast Cable Advertising as designed to become the “identity layer”. This essentially means TV and media companies have greater control of data at scale and this therefore improves the efficiency and effectiveness of data-driven TV advertising and marketing – in turn leading to better targeting, execution and measurement across screens.

There has been a real trend for dominant broadcasters in each country to build their own systems, instead of only working alongside independent ad marketplaces, and then entice rivals with promises of higher advertising yields to create a walled garden for advertising, keeping out Google and Facebook in the process.

Embracing addressability by cleverly segmenting audiences to drive up revenues per hour of broadcasting is a no brainer – and advanced addressable advertising technologies like AdSmart are there for the taking to give pioneering broadcasters like Sky a notable advantage. Although it’s worth noting AdSmart doesn’t come cheap.

Sky COO Andrew Griffith said, “Over the years, Sky has built a suite of advanced advertising tools, and we’re excited to share them with international marketers in the United States. Together with NBC Universal we’re launching a global product unlike anything the market has seen before, that combines the quality and reach of TV with best-in-class addressability.”