Will the upfront exist in 2021? That, of course, depends on the demand for traditional network and cable TV and whether their power to lock in advance commitments holds.
Going into this year’s upfront frenzy, several agency executives took time to discuss what the television buying scenario may look like five years from now, in a panel during MediaPost’s Outfront Forum in New York.
Alan Cohen, co-founder of the Giant Spoon agency, wryly noted that while he doesn’t want to sound “old school,” he left television 10 years ago because “I thought it was going to be over — and it’s obviously not over. I just don’t believe that the upfronts are going to be over in five years, or that people aren’t still going to be rushing to cable and network television.”
In contrast, Empower MediaMarketing VP Andrew Susman — who prefaced his remarks by noting that he’s only recently moved from the sell side to the agency side — said his observations of the media landscape thus far lead him to conclude that the upfront will either “cease to exist” or be “super-diminished” five years from now.
“Most television will be over-the-top, which means it will be like the Internet, which means it will be targetable,” Susman said. “And what about the state of mind of the targeted person at the very moment they’re going to make a decision? It’s like an airline seat — it gets more expensive the closer you get to the decision, because you have more information.” The same dynamic will increasingly apply in television, making today’s upfront buying process obsolete, he argues.
Going further, Barry Lowenthal, president of The Media Kitchen, said that the “physics of friction” that apply within the media ecosystem dictate that “money will always flow to an environment with the least amount of friction,” meaning the best consumer experience.
The best user experiences within today’s media world are “in places like Google and Facebook — which is why more and more money is moving to them,” he asserts. Noting a “staggering” Morgan Stanley statistic indicating that 85 cents of every new online marketing dollar is going to those two companies, he said that “when we’re talking about media today, we’re talking about search and social. And that will only become more true going forward.”
Just as Facebook disrupted the publishing community with Instant Articles, video will disrupt linear television, Lowenthal predicts. “When we look out five years, I think it’s going to be an app-driven landscape,” he said. “And probably given that messaging is so popular, it’s going to be a bot-driven landscape. And I can’t even imagine what that’s going to look like.”
David Cohen, president of Magna Global, said that within five or perhaps a few more years, “it’s very possible to think about upfront buying moving to being focused on sports and live events, with everything else being transacted programmatically, or with a heavy layer of data.”
Looking more closely at the metrics context, moderator Joe Mandese, MediaPost’s editor-in-chief, asked whether the dominance of GRPs and using programming, dayparts and age and gender will give way in the foreseeable future to using advanced audience data. Or, put in another way, whether content or audience will rule in buying television audience.
“I think we have a lot of misconceptions and preconceptions about what works and doesn’t work,” observed Magna’s Cohen. “The reality is that the measurement precision today is far better than anything we’ve ever had. And five years from now, our ability to link advertising and marketing to a business outcome will be far better than it is today. So I think that we have pre-market, in-market and post-market, and a lot of the things that we believe to be valuable today, pre-market, will be proved or disproved by measurement.”
Pressed on which he would opt for if forced to choose between content and audience data for upfront buys, he said that “we’re not in a world where we have to make that choice — we can have our cake and eat it, too.” He added that while content is important, “if push came to shove, and you had to pick one, I think audience trumps context.”
But he also stressed that “there are many dimensions of value — there’s context and content, and cost and fidelity of data and audiences and flexibility and agility,” and clients today are particularly focused on the ability to be agile.
“We have a best guess of what’s working, but we need to be able to pull out quickly should we learn that it’s not working,” he said. “And quickly is not in three months; it’s on a weekly basis or every two weeks. So if I could pick one dimension that’s most important five years from now, it’s agility and flexibility, without question.”