Google's YouTube Succeeds With An Old Upfront Tactic: Scarcity

Far be it for any digital platform to learn from traditional TV sellers. But perhaps Google’s YouTube has let a TV tactic sneak in.

Google, which has been offering a limited amount of premium inventory -- called “preferred” inventory -- for YouTube, says it essentially “sold out” those avails in “upfront” deals this summer after the traditional TV upfront market ended.

Now, Google is perhaps taking another page from traditional TV networks: selling a few bits and pieces of more YouTube inventory in “scatter” market deals.

To drive advertisers into big season-long upfront deals, TV has always worked on the premise of scarcity of specific programming and commercial avails. This has been especially true when advertisers clamor to get into high-rated shows -- from “The Cosby Show.” “Cheers,” “Seinfeld” and “Friends” in the old days, to “American Idol,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Big Bang Theory” and “The Voice” in more recent years.



Like TV networks, Google offered Nielsen viewership data and rating guarantees for its initial “preferred” deals. For the “scatter” market, also like the networks, Google says it won’t negotiate on guaranteed ratings.

Perhaps the only thing missing for YouTube are those big TV ratings. But then again, nothing is the way it used to be. Network show ratings are a fraction of where they had been.

Wonder if digital video is really making specific inroads into traditional TV coffers? That would be a "yes," according to Michael Law, executive VP/managing director of video investment for Dentsu Aegis America. He toldThe Wall Street Journal: “‘Preferred’ was a really clean way into YouTube when you think about TV replacement dollars... We’re excited to see how this works. This was 100% TV money.”

Still, YouTube may be fudging its “sold out” proclamation, as well as the concept of “scarcity,”, because it continues to add a lot more content. The company said that “100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.”

Many years ago, broadcast networks complained that cable networks -- then the new media players in town -- had a nearly unlimited supply of inventory, so the latter couldn’t play the same “scarcity” game.

But then cable started airing some high-demand original scripted programming. And cable networks developed plans to replace less-desired programming with stuff people really wanted.

We can understand, in part. TV-video sales executives have their own definitions, descriptions and qualifiers. Lessons continue to be learned, both old and new.

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