NBCUniversal unveils new ad tech at inaugural One21 event

The One21 event featured a significant portion of Comcast's executive roster, along with some of those partners' executives.( NBCUniversal)

After nearly three decades of talk about buying Rachel's sweater while watching “Friends,” Comcast finally said it's ready to deliver that sweater, or a pizza, or anything else tied to its programs. Also on the way are dynamic channels automatically optimized for a specific viewer, shoppable “Today Show” programming, and lots more Sky originals.

The media giant used a slickly produced, 80-minute video presentation mostly to announce a slew of new or expanded data, advertising, and integrated commerce offerings through partnerships and initiatives with social-media companies Twitter and Instagram/Facebook, ad-tech giants The Trade Desk, Visa and the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics organizing committee, among others. The company also offered a few tidbits about programming experiences on its broadcast, cable, streaming and social-media outlets.

The One21 event featured a significant portion of Comcast's executive roster, along with some of those partners' executives. The gist: the company has built the One platform to integrate and automate across its many services thorny challenges such as audience data, media buying, connected e-commerce and more, while seeking additional business and tech partners wanting to reach a global Comcast audience of 615 million people

Among the event's programming-centric bits of news:

  • Integrated e-commerce – that long-touted Silicon Valley dream of connecting shows with direct sales of goods on those shows – is coming to Comcast-connected video offerings, said Evan Moore, NBCU's VP of content partnerships. The company has developed NBCU Checkout, and signed deals with more than 100 partners, a network it wants to expand. The service also is coming to Instagram and Facebook. "Just as our partners are looking for a better way to sell, our viewers are seeking a better way to buy," Moore said, invoking both the Rachel sweater and Willie Wonka's Wonkavision as inspirations. Instagram Product Marketing Lead for Shopping Ethan Arpi said viewers will be able to watch a show on Bravo, then find "the most shoppable moment" on Instagram. Arpi promised "more to share in coming months."
  • NBCU is also working with "The Today Show" team to "scale their content and commerce content across the platform in coming months," Moore said. That will include shoppable channels, in-show and commercial shopping opportunities, and behind-the-scenes programming. The company is also working on partnerships with so-called "last-mile" delivery companies "to get people what they want when they want it."

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  • "Dynamic channels" and "passive personalization" beyond traditional linear approaches, to make viewing easier while aggregating connected content that a specific viewer might want to watch, said NBCU streaming chief Matt Strauss. He pointed to an initiative curated by The Office creator Greg Daniels that features clips like the cult-favorite series' best pranks, "cringe-worthy Michael Scott moments," table reads, cast discussions, and similar material designed to appeal to superfans. The show returned to NBCU in January and now is on Peacock. "It's still early days, but it's clear: these experiences are resonating with fans," Strauss said.
  • Comcast's European giant, Sky, will offer 125 original shows this year, including 30 films, said Sky UK Chief Consumer Officer Lyssa McGowan. Sky plans to open another production studio this year.
  • TV programmers have been largely freed from the grid, reorganized into pods around genre and "staffed with obsessives" focused on comedy or drama, rather than trying to fill a specific hole in the weekly schedule grid, said Susan Rovner, NBCU TV and streaming chairman of entertainment content. She made a pitch to creators, saying the company's cross-media partnerships with stars such as Meghan Trainor, Dwayne Johnson and Kelly Clarkson give creators the freedom to create a wide range of shows, from reality programming to podcasts to features to scripted series.
  • An expanded Twitter partnership that brings all NBCU accounts into one unified back-end for brands, who can build interactive ad experiences on Twitter alongside NBCU sports, news and entertainment content, said Twitter head of content partnerships Jennifer Prince.
  • Peacock will begin offering programmatic advertising later this year, allowing for automatically targeted ads across the hybrid streaming service, which became widely available last July.

RELATED: Comcast hints at Peacock launching soon on Amazon Fire TV

  • Advertisers who partner with NBCU and LA28, the organizing committee for 2028's Los Angeles Olympics, will be able to help shape visitors' experiences at the games, said Casey Wasserman, LA28's chairman and grandson of Lew Wasserman, Universal's storied long-time chairman. NBCUniversal owns Olympics and Paralympics broadcast and streaming rights through the early 2030s. "This is an unprecedented opportunity for your brands to connect with consumers," said Wasserman. "As our partners, you can create the games alongside us."
  • Later this year, Comcast will launch the NBC Audience Insights Hub, "a clean room so advertisers can explore without exposing any of the underlying data" from the company's linear, online and streaming audiences, said NBCU EVP of ad platforms and operations Ryan McConville. The service is being tested now with Snowflake and VideoAmp.

Comcast isn't the only company trying to knit together commerce and content. In ponying up for a $10 billion, 10-year deal for NFL rights last week, Amazon said it would be exploring ways to better connect game experiences, advertising and commerce.

Amazon, like numerous other U.S. tech giants, has been trying to crack the code for live e-commerce, a sector expected to crest $70 billion in sales in China this year. But as Instagram's Arpi acknowledged, the sector is still in its early days in the United States.