I am not one to debate the merits of the network & cable upfront period, other than to say it appears to be a tactic from an era in which the media companies owned content and tightly managed video ad supply.
But, in today's media world video content, particularly via Internet and mobile applications, is becoming more ubiquitous. The plethora of professionally produced video content provides marketers options in terms of content adjacencies, targeting and integrations. The trick has been to get enough scale in the digital world to support the broadcast efforts, as well as find digital opportunities to drive reach and engagement more efficiently. That situation continues to improve with the advent of ad-supported video destinations and content syndication networks, which both provide audiences that rely on those outlets for valuable video experiences.
The other area marketers & agencies have an opportunity to scale messaging is in the branded video content they create. This content, often in short-form formats of two to three minutes in length, can provide consumers unique and valued content. Particularly if the content provides useful information in a "how-to" series, or entertainment in a "narrative" series, in which the brands are integrated in a compelling manner.
Marketers can then essentially "bring that content with them" in their upfront negotiations. In addition to negotiating deals and rates, marketers can use their negotiating power to obtain distribution of their content. It may take the form of VOD content or as interstitial programming among traditional TV partners. On the Web it could be featured content on the portals, video sites and video content syndication networks.
By doing this, marketers can gain scale among their traditional video tools (pre-stream video), as well as with the more innovative, non-interruptive video tools of branded content.
The logic of marketers locking up valuable inventory at efficient rates is a proven tactic, and they should continue to use their buying scale for the benefit of their businesses. However, it may be in everyone's interest to consider the content marketers create to drive additional value for: their businesses; for the consumer; and for media companies.
It may be too early for marketers to employ this approach this year, but it's food for thought during this busy upfront month.