What Will Happen At The Upfront? Takeaways From Today's IRTS Newsmaker Breakfast

by , May 3, 2012, 5:26 PM
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Like many others trying to figure out what will happen at this year's TV upfront, I spent the morning at the annual IRTS Newsmaker Breakfast: The Media Buyers, timed to coincide with the beginning of the upfront. This year's panel was comprised of some of the top media buyers in the U.S.: Initiative's Kris Magel, Starcom's Mike Rosen, UM's David Cohen and Digitas' Stephanie Sarofian. As in past years, the media buyer panel was moderated by media economist and industry luminary Jack Myers.

This year, I was honored to play a more involved role in the event, since I was recently elected chairman of the IRTS. The 70+-year-old organization is dedicated to helping grow tomorrow's media leaders. It was born from conversations among a number of New York radio and TV execs back in 1939 on a day-and-a-half train ride back from Pittsburgh, where they had celebrated the christening of a new transmission tower at KDKA, the nation's first commercial radio station.

Today, the IRTS has broadened its focus and embraces all involved in the digital audio and video media industry, and is known for its media education and news events, its college fellowship programs, and its efforts to improve diversity through programs like job fairs.

The panel was very substantive and featured occasional disagreement among the panelists. Here are some of the key points I took away:

1. U.S. marketing budgets have seen the last increases they will for the next ten years. Jack Myers kicked off the panel with his projection that we will see a 15% increase in total marketing budgets in the U.S. this year -- but this will be the last increase in marketing spend for this decade. However, he still anticipates advertising spend to grow, meaning that advertising will displace spending from other marketing expenditures.

2. The ad buying environment is different from last year’s. Last year, ad rates went up, in part because U.S. economic growth was projected to be strong, but GDP last year actually came in at one-half the level anticipated. Further, the industry is not facing the prospect of an "NFL-less" fall. Undoubtedly,  the threat of a player's strike or lock-out cast a long shadow over last year's upfront.

3. Online is not yet ready to replace TV. The panel talked about the just-completed Newfront. While all were encouraged by the steps that folks in the Web video and digital companies have made to create better integration with the processes that drive TV media buying, still online products -- and Web video in particular -- don't yet have the scale to provide real alternatives to TV, the tentpole of the U.S. ad business.

4. The "format versus audience" debate will continue to divide the industry. One of the hotter exchanges among panelists was when Starcom's Mike Rosen complimented digital companies for embracing the video format, making their Web video comparable to TV, and recognizing that a media format-centric strategy would continue to be king in driving attractiveness for buyers and marketers. UM's Cohen disagreed, noting that audience is king and that audience-centricity would be the big driver in the future of multiplatform media buying.

5. Data and Web technologies will change TV. Initiative's Magel led a chorus saying that data and Web technologies were certain to have a significant impact on how media buyers evaluated and bought, and not just for search and display.  These folks anticipate that Web-born approaches will impact significant portions of their TV media, such as run-of-network, which buyers have historically had little control over.

Do you agree with the panelists? Are we still some years away from online being a real replacement to TV? Will the upfront continue to set the pace for our industry each year? Let us know in the comments below.

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