I spent Tuesday at MediaPost's OutFront, an all-day conference about the current state of the television and video advertising market, held just in advance of the bulk of the TV upfront presentations. The event had a lot of great speakers, with some really diverse perspectives -- from sales legends like Discovery's Joe Abruzzese and Fox's Jon Nesvig to media buyers like MediaVest's Donna Speciale to politician turned TV network owner Al Gore. Most important, the sessions weren't just successions of Powerpoints, but had some real discussions with real tension and disagreements -- the kind of stuff that serial conference-goers like me love.
Here are some of my highlights and takeaways:
Sellers are feeling good. While everybody agreed that the TV ad market last year was terrible for everyone involved, it was clear that TV ad sellers are all feeling pretty good about their position this year going into the upfronts. There was quite a bit of jockeying going on during the seller-buyer panel that led off the conference, and everybody -- even the buyers -- recognized that ad rates were going to be going up.
Cable/broadcast net pecking-order distinctions are disappearing. It's clear that the bigger cable networks aren't carrying the same chip on their shoulder that they have in years past. Turner's Linda Yaccarino was justifiably beaming about big moves in acquiring both Conan O'Brien and a major piece of the NCAA March Madness.
Nielsen still on hot seat. Dave Thomas of Nielsen pulled some pretty tough duty, participating on a panel discussing the local TV ratings switch that his company made that de-emphasized live ratings. He handled himself very well during some pretty aggressive back-and-forths, but certainly looked as if he wished he were sitting in the audience and not on stage.
Advanced TV metrics are coming. Everyone on the advanced metrics panel agreed that TV is going to get a lot smarter and that it is going to happen soon, though there was a significant diversity of opinion about whether basic audience measurement and TV's currency -- the Nielsen ratings -- was at risk, or whether the most significant advances would be around how advertisers utilized the TV media that they purchased, a point convincingly advanced by CBS' David Poltrack.
Even advertising can be made "sustainable." In the conference's closing speech, former Vice President Al Gore showed us not only that he's gotten pretty savvy about the business of TV and pitching advertising, but that you can wrap a "green" label around almost anything. Before he spoke, I was pretty skeptical that Gore was going to be able to make a convincing argument that advertising could be made "sustainable," but by the end of his talk I had to admit he'd made some very good points, such as that new lightweight approaches to content and ad productions -- like user-generated ads -- are more resource-friendly.
All in all, it was a great day and great way to set the stage for the upfronts. Any readers who also attended the Outfront or viewed it online, please add your observations and takeaways as well in the comments section.