Wolk’s Week in Review: NBCU goes all in on alternate currencies, YouTube launches a FAST of sorts

Wolk's Week In Review

1. NBCU Goes All In On Alternate Currencies

It was a pretty genius location for NBCU’s big One22 event: Saturday Night Live’s legendary Studio 8A, the better to reinforce the heritage and glamor of the NBCU brand in particular and the television industry in general.

And then Kelly Abcarian, NBCU’s EVP of Measurement and Impact, said the magic words. “We will be transacting off of iSpot data during the upfronts.”

It was both unexpected and a major shot across the bow of her former employer Nielsen.

But more than that, it was about time.

Why It Matters

Before anyone gets too excited, this does not mean that NBCU is voting Nielsen off the island or even taking away their immunity idol (wrong network, but the analogy works.)

Nielsen will still be a major player in NBCU’s upfronts, especially in terms of linear TV. (Many of the brands that buy linear TV would not have it any other way.)

And while iSpot was not the only alternative measurement company tapped by NBCU—Comscore will measure local TV and Conviva will measure streaming and digital audiences—it was the only one now certified as currency for the upfronts, and the fact that anyone other than Nielsen was certified as currency for the upfronts by the largest television company in America is indeed a very big deal.

People in the industry have, of course, been bitching about Nielsen for years, though often in the way they bitch about death and taxes. Nielsen was inevitable, nothing was ever going to change.

Until it did.

The choice of iSpot, a relative newcomer to the space, must have proven particularly jarring to many industry old-timers, who, I have found, are deeply unfamiliar with any of the newer measurement players. So welcome to 2022.

On a more macro level, there have always been two schools of thought about Nielsen and its monopoly on TV measurement: on the one hand were those who viewed it as akin to the U.S. dollar, e.g., the currency the entire TV world traded on, and thus they did not see any real need for improvement or competition. 

Then there were others who saw it as the Ma Bell of measurement, hopelessly outdated and not in any rush to change anything, mostly because they didn’t have to.

That shifted even before yesterday’s announcement however, because, as Abcarian also noted, the new Nielsen One platform, slated to roll out in 2024, will make all previous Nielsen measurement data obsolete (no more YOY comparisons.)

So change was going to happen regardless of whether or not anyone approved of it.

That means the next question will be how many currency providers does the industry need? 

My gut says the answer to that will follow the path of many recently deregulated industries where an initial scrum of new players is merger and acquisitioned down to just two or three.

That seems to be the most likely case, but expect some bumps along the road and some pushback from brands, who do not like change.

There are also many, many, many (that is three “manys”) issues to be solved, first and foremost the actual integration of linear and streaming. 

For as much as brands and agencies have spent the past five years claiming to be “video agnostic”, they still lump streaming TV together with YouTube videos and assign it to some programmatic buying team who are annoyed it’s not all as easy as display is. Linear, OTOH, is left with TV buyers, many of whom keep trying to figure out why their digital people insist on calling the networks “publishers.”

So there’s all that and it’s a lot to solve, but, as the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles starts with just one step.

Now to see what the second, third and fourth steps are.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re NBCU, congrats. It’s never easy to take the first step.

If you’re iSpot, double congrats and wow. Take a deep extended bow, you’ve earned it.

If you’re Comscore and Conviva, congrats on your win too.

If you’re TVSquared, VideoAmp or Samba—get ready, you’re on deck.

If you’re a senior person in the TV ad business and you looked at those last six names and thought “who?” about any of them, time to get up to speed.

If you’re Nielsen, remember that graciously agreeing to share power always has better results than aggressively resisting change. Just something to think about between PE offers.

2. YouTube Launches A FAST Of Sorts

Google has long been the magpie of the Media-Tech world, jumping from one bright shiny object to the next, without ever sticking around long enough to see it through. (Remember Google Plus? YouTube Red? The OG Chromecast dongle?)

So we are treating their decision to launch a FAST-like service via YouTube with no small degree of cynicism. 

The service, which does not appear to have a name, a separate app or even a unique interface, will serve up around 4,000 popular rerun titles ranging from Hell’s Kitchen to Father Knows Best, all of which feature a little “Free With Ads” tag on them.

Why It Matters

On the YouTube TV app and the browser-based site, the new shows are part of a “Movies and TV” tab on the left hand nav that sits below News and Gaming on the TV and much further down (well below the fold) on my browser.

Meaning that unless you read about it in the trades, you are unlikely to ever know it exists.

What’s bananas is that YouTube has had movies for some time now—and not just the pirated ones with Croatian subtitles that people have uploaded. 

Remember how surprised we all were when the James Franco/Seth Rogan movie The Interview was released on YouTube and we found out that the service actually had a fairly sizable library of movies for rent? 

And then remember how unsurprised we all were when YouTube did absolutely nothing to capitalize on that potential newfound audience?


On paper, the idea of Google launching a FAST makes a whole lot of sense, especially since they seem to be doubling down on their Android interface, especially in Europe, and having a YouTube branded FAST preinstalled on all those millions of Android smart TVs would be like printing money. 

In reality though, Google does not seem to have the will or desire to successfully make their new FAST service happen.

It would be shockingly simple to promote (it’s not as if they lack data about consumers and their habits) or to even have some sort of screen takeover to introduce it when you open the TV app this week. (It could also be as simple as seeding it into the “recommended videos” on the right side of the page 

And mobile, the main place people still watch YouTube? I scrolled around some and I do not see the Movies and TV tab anywhere. Maybe there will be an update later this month, but right now the absence is baffling.

But not if you’re Google, I guess.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re Google just promote the damn FAST. You took the trouble to buy the rights to those shows and send out a press release about it. Now make sure it has a chance to succeed.

So give it a name. Highlight the interface. Do some marketing to let people know it exists. Stick it on all your Android TVs and make it the heart of your interface.

At the very least, make it easy to find on the iPhone app.

That’s just 101.

Then you can look into using some of Alphabet’s billions to produce some originals—lower production budget, non-fiction stuff—and then mix it in with premium short form content (e.g., give some of your top creators their own channels) and BOOM! you have a unique and differentiated product. 

You’re welcome.

But just as importantly, once you do that, remember you need to continue to pay attention and update the app so that it thrives and grows. You can’t just rush off to the next bright shiny object.

If you’re one of the other FASTs, I wouldn’t lose sleep over this. There’s no reason to think Google is going to deviate from their usual playbook on this one.