Interestingly, though, this year's upfront is seeing meaningful digital advances of a different sort. The industry buzz has been so centered on the potential impact of reduced ad spending on this year's upfront that we almost missed the biggest source of innovation beginning to make news in the upfront for decades: addressable television advertising.
Relevant, interactive, and measurable television commercials have been talked about for a very long time without much production. But enthusiasm, interest, and efforts have remained consistently high. As a result, it is only a threat of the next Great Depression that has enabled this year's new offerings to slip in under the radar.
In perhaps the biggest new advanced advertising offering to grace the upfront stage, Cablevision has combined its national upfront purchases of the Rainbow Networks (WE, AMC, IFC, and Sundance) with access to addressable television advertising avails in the tri-state area.
Cablevision has the largest deployment of household addressable advertising to date and has been working with the Cablevision marketing organization and major national advertisers to run and optimize addressable campaigns for over a year, starting with its own inventory and expanding to national advertisers. Cablevision's advanced advertising sales team is able to offer household segment addressability, branded dedicated channels, interactive ads, and several other cutting edge initiatives.
Because operational constraints limit the pace of industry-wide rollout, and therefore the number of clients who can take advantage of these offerings in the near-term, access to these new types of inventory will likely sway bigger budgets to those nets and certainly capture on-the-margin dollars.
Targeting and interactivity also continue to grow on other national networks. Voting and polling sponsorship opportunities are available on select networks across NBC Universal, MTV Networks, and Turner Networks.
According to Carolyn Everson, EVP and COO of MTVN Ad Sales, "We've seen great success in terms of advertiser demand and audience interaction for the two ad-supported voting and polling applications that we've launched to date. Our recent initial tests on The N and on MTV with the VMAs show that we can now provide advertisers with deeper engagement and innovation on the linear TV screen to complement our programming and other integrated marketing efforts."
MTV Networks, A&E Television Networks, Fox, and TV Guide Network are all also offering the ability to use automated, data-driven decisions to target advertisements by program, time of day, or real-time based on changes going on in the world or in the advertiser's business. Taking advantage of these new capabilities as they emerge will provide marketers with a sustainable competitive advantage as television rapidly evolves into a platform that combines the reach of TV and power of sight, sound, and motion with the enhanced capabilities associated with the Internet.
Finally, new measurement currencies are being discussed in the context of this year's upfront, ranging from the expansion of TiVo's StopWatch product to the emerging planning data coming from other addressable players. While no one expects any of these products to be the center of the upfront in 2009, it is a marked step forward that foreshadows what will matter in the upfronts of 2010, 2011, and beyond.
"There are more ways to watch television today than ever before, and to send sweeping generalized advertisements or judge program viewership and ad delivery solely by classic linear sampling methods is ridiculous," said Tim Hanlon, EVP/Managing Director of Publicis Groupe's VivaKi Ventures.
"Marketers and their agencies need to be able to target specific messages to distinct segments and to optimize those messages against real-world, real-time assessment of how their campaigns are performing across all occasions and environments. You will absolutely see ad media buying gravitate toward these opportunities where they exist today and in future negotiations."
And for those who are wondering if the upfront will still exist in a digital television world, the answer is, likely, yes! After all, in our industry, it is well known that old traditions die hard. And the upfront works in many ways. But the upfront itself will change as a result of these new digital offerings, and what is old will become new again. If you are a distributor, programmer, or marketer who is not yet immersed in determining how to take advantage of these capabilities, tune in!