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NBCU wants to cut prime-time commercial load 20% by 2020

NBCUniversal Media LLC is planning further ad reductions after experimenting with a lower prime-time ad load for many of its broadcast and cable network shows during the 2018-2019 TV season.

Comcast Corp.'s programming arm, which a year ago committed to shrinking its ad load by 10%, wants to double that reduction for its 2020 prime-time schedule. It is also eyeing ad cuts in other dayparts.

The ad reductions are meant to enhance the viewer experience in a TV market increasingly shaped by ad-free subscription video-on-demand services such as Netflix Inc., as well as other platforms running minimal commercials. At the same time, NBCU and other programmers, including 21st Century Fox Inc. and Viacom Inc., are looking to heighten the impact of messages through various formats, data and technology that can serve up more relevant messages with better ad targeting.

An NBCU spokesman said the company is assessing ad reduction strategies that could be deployed in shows like morning stalwart "Today," and programming in other dayparts.

To account for running fewer spots, NBCU has secured higher pricing through Prime Pods — 60-second positions in the first or final commercial breaks — across its top 50 original broadcast shows, including "This Is Us," "New Amsterdam" and "Manifest," and various cable series. NBCU said the new format has been successful relative to providing increased likability, brand recall and conversion, among other advertising metrics, and will be deployed more often as the programmer broadens its reduction plan.

NBCU said it also plans to scale the use of its new proprietary artificial intelligence-powered targeting solutions, which enable clients to better connect their brand messages to specific moments in shows.

According to NBCU's spokesman, digital and advanced advertising accounts for more than $1 billion in spending, and the company is looking to double its investments in technology to build smarter systems, as well as enhanced automation and optimization efforts.

Last spring, NBCU, which has been at the forefront of an industry move to look beyond C3 and C7 metrics, introduced CFlight, an impressions-based system that provides a composite score tied to live and time-delayed viewing from linear, as well mobile, desktop, video-on-demand, and over-the-top platforms. NBCU guaranteed campaigns for its entertainment and sports programming during the upfront negotiations for the 2018-2019 TV season with CFlight.