What's the role of the television upfronts?
I know the old answer was to convince advertisers where they should spend their money over the coming year, by teasing them with first-look views of the new programs that will garner the attention of the masses.
In today’s world, this seems far less necessary.
Lets face facts: Linear TV viewership is declining in favor of watching TV on-demand and across devices via streaming services on the Web.
The program landscape is dominated by a few shows that garner the majority of the attention and buzz. Some of these shows are not even supported by advertising— for example, HBO “Game of Thrones.”
Please don’t me wrong, I love “TV.” I watch “TV” on the airplane, or in bed at night, or on the train into San Francisco. I watch “TV” on my phone or on my iPad.
The challenge for TV companies is, the shows I watch are not appointment viewing. I’m not watching them live — and in many cases, I’m not even watching them in the same season they air on TV. I’m watching shows like “Arrow,” “The Flash” or “Blacklist” through iTunes and Netflix, and I likely pay for them or watch them a season late. I don’t even bother recording shows on DVR anymore because I never sit on the couch to watch them.
In fact, nobody in my house sits on the couch to watch TV. The couch has become the place for sports, video games or just catching up.
The upfronts are almost a foregone conclusion. Supporters point to effective CPMs still increasing year over year. I’m curious what the year-over-year change has been network to network, and whether advertisers are spending the same percentage year over year against upfront programming versus.holding and using it for “TV” later in the year, across devices.
Each year there are fewer and fewer new shows that break out; mostly the best shows continue to win attention and command the lion’s share of the budgets. It seems the major networks are holding onto their best shows, clinging for dear life in an effort to delay the inevitable: the collapse of the upfront buying market and radical shift toward programmatic digital.
What’s funny is, the shift to data-driven, cross-device programmatic with an upfront model would actually be a boon for TV. If advertisers could buy not only the program, but also overlay the audience, and lock that in early, networks could charge an increased premium that would likely convert into more money for them in the long run. Some of the networks are starting to package their shows this way, but the tools to make this delivery 100% possible and accurate are still a few years away.
The future of the upfront season is actually brighter than the immediate future, which is murky at best.
Some changes in leadership among the networks signal they “get it” as well, and that makes me feel confident enough to offer up this opinion. The future is bright in a digital upfront universe. Get your sunglasses ready, but don’t be surprised when you see a huge dip for one to two years before things get righted.