But what about this year? Will the declines continue and if so, what does that mean for the business? It seems to me it all comes down to consumer behavior and fragmentation of platforms. As alternatives — VOD, connected TV, OTT — grow in both distribution and adoption, the business opportunity for selling traditional television in the old upfront model will inevitably shrink, evolving to a model that fully captures cross-platform and digital — in as close to real time as possible. That means currency cross-platform measurement, dynamic ad insertion, and maybe real-time bidding. This could keep a traditional media executive awake at night.
Friedman asked each of his panelists what discussions they were having with their clients. Helen Giles, director of national broadcast and video integration at Lowe Campbell Ewald, said, “We look at individual client needs and where the audience is.” Chris Geraci, President National Broadcast Investment at OMD agreed: “We always start with the clients. We look at media as video and have an agnostic approach to it. Video is now consumed on a more diverse array of platforms than ever before.”
Some were weighing the value of buying in the upfront — among them Maureen Bosetti, executive group director, national broadcast and NY operations for Optimedia. “What if I didn't do the upfront?” asked Jason Kanefsky, executive vice president, strategic investments for Havas Media. “We have this discussion at Havas. What is my ceiling for price and what is my alternative? It used to be the… fear of being shut out. And that fear is what has driven the market. Fragmentation makes us less fearful.” Gibbs Haljun, managing director, media investment for GroupM, noted that, “The upfront is the futures market…. Many investments are being done closer to lead time. But it is based on individual clients.”
That is now. In another panel, looking forward five years to Upfront 2019-2020, there was little consensus on what to expect. At Media Kitchen, “We have been bullish on programmatic and took back from our trading desk to do programmatic all by ourselves. It is the very center of what we do, ” according to President Barry Lowenthal. He added, “The best insights come from data-driven media buying.”
But Kris Magel, chief investment officer, Initiative, was less bullish on programmatic, calling it “overused.” Meanwhile Adam Kasper, chief media officer at Havas Media, noted the shift “from traditional to digital — and it is an important shift. Are upfront commitments necessary? I am not sure [the upfront] will be in existence in five years. Maybe we will go directly to content creators.” Kasper also saw a “revolution coming in the measurement space.”
If agency executives are questioning the future of the upfront as we know it, then, as one panelist noted, “We have reached an inflection point where things really are different.” How different still remains to be seen. Stay tuned.