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Pathmatics Blog

ABC vs. NBC: How Did Their Advertising Strategies Compare in 2016?

January 31 2017 by Jordan Kramer

NBC and ABC are among the big four broadcast networks, battling for the top spot along with CBS and FOX. Yet, NBC and ABC seem to be in a separate battle—a battle of digital advertising. The two networks are in a league of their own when it comes to digital advertising, taking the top two media industry spots for paid, according to Pathmatics data

In 2016, ABC Entertainment Group spent nearly $48 million on digital advertising and NBC Universal Television spent a little more than $43 million. CBS, the next highest spender in the media sector, didn’t even come close at about $33 million in spend. Last and certainly least in spend out of the big four was FOX Broadcasting Company at more than $18 million.

So how and where are ABC and NBC advertising in the digital space? And who took the best CPM (a measure of the cost per number of impressions) for the year?

ABC Doles Out Big Dollars for Desktop Advertising

ABC took the number 3 spot for total viewers in 2016, just behind NBC. Yet, it won the top media spot in terms of spend share for the year at 6.5 percent. With a spend of almost $48 million and about 3.6 billion impressions in 2016, the media giant had an average CPM of $13.10. So where and when was it spending these dollars?

In terms of impressions, 86 percent came from desktop display, while 7 percent of impressions came from desktop video and mobile each. A majority of ABC’s spend went to desktop display advertising (84 percent), while the company also spent a significant portion on desktop video (13 percent). The remaining 3 percent of spend went to mobile advertising.

The company spent nearly $16 million on a single day in Q1 and more than $11 million on another single day Q3, with these major day-long spikes coming solely from desktop, as mobile and desktop video remained steady.


About 98 percent of ABC’s advertising was distributed via direct, with just 1 percent going to Yahoo! Advertising and less than 1 percent going to other ad networks and DSPs. 

The top site for ABC’s advertising dollars was YouTube desktop display and desktop video, taking about 60 percent of the company’s total spend for 2016. In fact, seven of the company’s top 10 spending ads, which were all banner display, appeared solely on YouTube. Here’s the top ad ABC spent money on, at about $3.6 million:
So how does all of this compare to NBC, the second highest spender?

NBC Invests Big in Video

NBC took 5.8 percent of the media sector’s spend total in digital advertising. With a spend topping $42 million and about 3.3 billion impressions, NBC’s average CPM for all digital advertising hit $12.90, $0.20 below ABC.

As the second most-watched network in 2016, NBC had a much different spend strategy than ABC, with only 50 percent of the company’s spend going toward desktop advertising, followed closely by desktop video at 42 percent. Mobile spend reached 8 percent in 2016. Despite only 50 percent of spend going to desktop, this channel garnered 67 percent of NBC’s impressions.
Similar to ABC, there was a large spike in spend on September 1 for NBC. The company’s second largest spike began November 1 and continued to grow through the New Year.

Most of NBC’s spending was direct (92 percent). Another 6 percent of spend went to the DSPs and trade desks.

NBC spent the largest individual amount of ad dollars on YouTube, at about 39 percent of the network’s total spend. However, the second top site for NBC’s ad spend was NBCNews.com with 10 percent of its spend share. In contrast, ABC spent 1.7 percent of its budget on ABCNews.Go.com. Six of NBC’s top ads were in video format, yet the top three were display. Here’s the highest spending ad at more than $ 2 million:

Who Is Winning?

While ABC was the highest spender, the media company’s CPM was $0.20 higher than NBC’s. CPM isn’t everything, but if you pair it with the fact that NBC reached a higher viewership in 2016, perhaps the company is doing something right, and at a lower cost.

Want to gain insight on your own competitors? With competitive advertising intelligence, you could be miles ahead. Optimize your digital advertising strategies by understanding where industry leaders advertise, how they purchase and where they get the best CPMs 

Try a demo of Pathmatics to see for yourself! It’s free.

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About Author
Jordan Kramer

An out-of-the-box thinker with a love for disruptive ideas, Jordan's background spans PR and events for the wedding & hospitality industry in Los Angeles and Scottsdale and also launching one of America's most unique food trucks. She jumped from the food start-up scene to the tech start-up scene in 2013 to join one of the most unique companies in ad tech. Jordan is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

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