NBCUniversal’s Maggy Chan on Tapping Into Global Fandoms



As advertising market Cannes Lions kicks off, NBCUniversal’s managing director and executive VP of global advertising and partnerships, Maggy Chan, talks about the importance of creating global partnerships.

This coming month, children all over the world will be released from school for the summer, and eventually lodge an age-old complaint: “I’m bored.”

I know this one well. Summer travel was at the bottom of my parents’ budget list, which meant I found my own entertainment—pre-programmed, on the television.

My sisters and I grew up in France, with two parents from Mauritius, East Africa. Just like our parents encouraged us to try every new food, I developed an after-school TV palette for all cultures. I devoured French children’s cartoons, but also Chinese movies, Bollywood musicals and all-American classics like “Grease” and “The Sound of Music.” In short, I became part of an international fandom.

Every night, I crept out of my bedroom and complained to my parents that I couldn’t sleep. Really, I just wanted to see if I could sneak bits of the saucy 1987 U.S hit show “Dallas.” The big hair! The secrets! The even bigger houses! I couldn’t believe that Texas—a land so distant and unfamiliar—could seem as if it were right in my living room.

I found that as much as I consumed television, television consumed me. It was a means of transportation to another place, and an invitation to cultures and communities far outside my own. Decades later, it’s clear I’m not alone—and creators and advertisers can learn a lot from global audiences.

Start with storytelling: Global content shapes culture, and its fandoms transcend borders

As consumers are living in an increasingly globalized world, we not only have a heightened awareness of other cultures, but a voracious appetite for learning about them. A study from NBCUniversal/MAGNA found that 93% of people want to connect with other cultures. And that is in no small part thanks to, and powered by, global content.

We’ve seen this trend play out from the biggest screens to our own homes. In 2020, “Parasite” became the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture. Today, many of the most-streamed and most-talked about shows are enjoyed in other languages.

Subtitles used to be something associated with French films at arthouse cinemas. Now they’re a prerequisite to keeping up with any good dinner conversation. And as distributors and showrunners embrace this increasingly global audience, premium content (and its stars) have found greater global connection.

Simplicity at scale: Partnerships unlock global potential

In this increasingly interconnected world, brands are looking to tap into these global audiences. But the industry is not making it easy for them.

Currently, if a marketer wants to reach a global audience on premium video, they need to go to multiple platforms and sales teams to transact, optimize and measure their campaigns. And while social platforms have been able to execute this, nothing like this existed in the premium video marketplace, which advertisers value for its brand safety and trust.

Of course, it’s not just building easy-to-use global platforms for premium content. We also know that around the world, local audiences are loyal to their local broadcasters, and trust them implicitly. Which means there is a huge opportunity for premium broadcasters to tap into their competitive networks and make it easier for global marketers to reach these devoted fans.

To do that, we need global technology and global partnerships that can adapt to what marketers are asking for – simplicity and scale. That’s exactly why NBCUniversal is partnering with FreeWheel, 100 premium broadcasters, 1,000 digital publishers, and more than 50 demand-side platforms to enable marketers to reach audiences in over 190 countries in one singular seamless transaction.

This is the first time something like this has been done. But, it’s not the final step.

Specificity matters: Global brands need to create authentic local appeal

It’s one thing for brands to reach global audiences, but it’s another to develop creative that actually resonates with them.

Content has a lot to teach us, starting with the fact that “broad appeal” should never mean generic. I saw this in my 15 years at BBC, when the network adapted the hit British reality competition show “Strictly Come Dancing” into “Dancing with the Stars.” American-izing “Strictly” didn’t mean just replacing it with an American cast—it meant revising dancing rubrics, rethinking judges’ tones, and often, amping up the glitz and glamour.

The same idea goes for brands. While many people can find something to like about a Big Mac, McDonalds has some of the largest brand recognition in the world precisely because they cater their international offerings to local taste: like a Kung Pao sandwich in China, and chocolate-hazelnut McPops in Spain. It wasn’t until I left France for London that I learned not all locations offer McSalads.

In other words, to appeal to global audiences, you can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. Content owners and advertisers need to take a multi-pronged approach to ensure there is something for every consumer, and cater their international offerings to local markets.

People are at the heart of our global stories

Whether we’re talking international stories, local flavor, or partnerships that combine both—at the heart of these strategies is genuine knowledge of people in individual international markets, and the tools to connect with them.

Today, I sit in the London office of an American company, and oversee teams in the U.K., U.S., China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the U.A.E.. My team reflects our company’s reach, with a rich diversity of geographies and expertise. And so we know that global understanding isn’t just a lens—it’s our worldview.

Today, global brands and advertisers have an incredible opportunity. By investing in technology and expertise across every market, businesses can connect more efficiently with consumers around the world—alongside content seasoned to their exact taste.

With storytelling and scale, simplicity and specificity, a global fandom is finally within reach. Now, it’s on every business to seize it.


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