And So This Was Digital's Upfront Breakout Year, Right? Well, No

Many of the big revolutions finished without all the expected explosions. There are some among us — journalists, mainly — who are disappointed when calamity is the middlin’ kind that everybody experiences, but nobody dies from.

Such it is that the thinking went that if upfronts were uneventful, the presumed benefactor would be digital. But the upfronts were uneventful, and online video is not suddenly being deluged with ad buys.  

The NewFront presentations in the spring supposedly represented the streaming purveyors stepping up to tell advertisers they meant business, too. But “creating a viable alternative marketplace for original Web series that would steal significant market share from TV budgets in head to head negotiations is something else altogether. And digital buyers say that isn’t realistic at this point,” says Mike Shields in The Wall Street Journal’s CMO Today blog.

I don’t actually remember many digital video executives really saying they expected to take lots of dollars from broadcasting or cable. Indeed, one healthy part of the online video industry seems to be the recognition that at the advertising feeding trough, they will likely be fed less than everybody else, for a long, long time to come .

To leave the pig trough imagery quickly behind, online has firmly established itself as a necessary component of an ad campaign, but not the major spend. Unless you’re a liquor or lifestyle brand that, oh, say, sells condoms, you’re going to be spending most of your dollars on broadcast or cable.

But to leave unreasonable scraps for digital is pretty stupid too.  Shields says the fact advertisers are first making their deals with TV is a pecking order that speaks loudly about the value of online. But I’d say it mainly speaks loudly about the total audience and the track record of broadcasting, cable, and online.

Digital is last because at this point, it deserves to be, but it would seem it’s getting a good piece of what the established media can’t justify. But its price is kept down for a lot of boring reasons, not least of which is that there’s no shortage of online video avails. It’s no exclusive club.     

The New York Post’s Claire Atkinson, who has covered the upfronts for years,   reported earlier that cable looks to be headed for a decline of around 3%, which isn’t huge, but as she notes, “it would mark the first upfront ad sales drop for cable not caused by the recession or dot-com bust.” Likewise, with broadcasters, the upfront was also down, it appears is also down, says Broadcasting & Cable’s Jon Lafayette.

The  interesting stuff comes later, when advertisers start disbursing additional ad dollars based, no doubt, on ratings and buzz. The buzz is in online’s corner; the dollars should follow.

pj@mediapost.com

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