Why Trad TV Upfronts Fall Behind Modern Consumer

We hear it every year, the current TV upfront process needs to change. And while more and more networks are bringing forward the idea of data-informed audience targeting, the truth is what we’re seeing is essentially the same “big five” agencies following the same process to try and connect brands with consumers in the same way.

Which means brands are still hanging their hopes on the idea  their true target happens to be watching one specific program at the exact right time.

FYI: They’re not.

TV viewership continues to decline with broadcast down 10% and cable down 7% in the key demographic of adults 18-49. And this decline is happening at an exponentially accelerated pace, with the trend toward cord cutting driving record-breaking disconnects; 762,000 pay TV customers in Q1 alone. That’s five times as many as Q1 2016.

Obviously, this is a serious problem. The traditional TV ecosystem is breaking and we must adapt. Faster.



All this means that finding your specific target in the proverbial haystack has never been harder. And even if they are watching, their attention has never been more divided. Between second-screen experiences, quick access to mobile games and social networks (not to mention the usual snack and bathroom breaks), users have more reasons to dip out during the commercial breaks than ever before.

So to grab their attention, and really get them to engage with your brand, you have to get personal.

  Another idea we’ve been hearing about for years, but one that is finally here—and it works.

With Addressable TV you are able to purchase TV by audience, not program. So instead of just hoping your true target audience is watching the right show at the right time, you’re able to deliver your message directly to them regardless of what program they’re watching.

And by catering that message to their specific needs, you can pull them and engage them in a real and relevant way.

It’s the perfect combination of data-informed media and 1-to-1 marketing—a model previously only available online or in the mail, now on TV. Which means brands are finally able to make their TV dollars matter more, and track back to real business outcomes. 

Now we’re not suggesting that we should do away with traditional upfronts. In fact, they are still a relatively efficient way to manage large budgets, but they simply don’t work on their own anymore. By combining the traditional upfront model with a new Addressable TV approach, you can better meet the needs and the viewing patterns of the modern consumer, while maximizing impact for your brand.

Plus, including Addressable as part of upfront TV budget planning, allows brands to lay the foundation for their audience-based TV plan with national coverage at the most targeted level possible. From here, applying the same advanced data, brands can layer additional audience approaches, for a cohesive strategy. All of this is a smart complement to a traditional linear TV approach.

And this approach also allows the creative to work harder. 

Imagine this: a big brand using current TV upfronts to buy placements for their traditional brand spot, the big idea—their brand promise. Then, buying additional household placements to help bring that message down to the individual level, using Addressable TV to show a specific segment what that promise means to them.

Not only would this help brands pull consumers through the purchase funnel on the first screen, but it will also help consumers weed through a sea of marketing to get to and answer the biggest question of all: “What’s in it for me?”

And that’s a model adapted for the modern age. 

2 comments about "Why Trad TV Upfronts Fall Behind Modern Consumer".
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  1. Long Ellis from Tetra TV, May 22, 2017 at 12:55 p.m.

    Great piece Tracey! Everyting seems to be headed in this direction, but to your point, not volume buys like the upfront, but complemntary scatter buys with better targeting that leverage real time data and could even be bought in a way that allows you to optimize during the campaign flight.  

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, May 23, 2017 at 8:46 a.m.

    I'm surprised to see the claim that TV viewing is declining at an "exponentially accelerated rate" at the outset of this piece. TV's viewing is simply being divided up more evenly among the many competing channels with the result that the average channel is suffering rating declines. But total TV viewing is not declining anything like "exponentially". The obvious solution is not to wring one's hands and cry that the sky is falling, but to split up one's buys among more TV channels and dayparts. Do that and you will get your reach.

    I'm not against "addressable TV" or, for that matter, ""programmatic time buying" ,when and if those systems can deliver what they promise, while earning the wholehearted cooperation of both sellers and buyers. But these concepts must stand or fall on their own merits. Trying to panic advertisers into going those routes because TV is falling apart and losing vast amounts of viewers to Netflix and/or "cord cutting", or failing to gain attention from its audiences, is a scare tactic. The actual facts, which are available to one and all, are what need to be studied. Yes, TV is adapting and, in many respects, changing, but "addressable TV and "programmatic" are merely ways to, perhaps, improve the TV time buying and targeting process. By all means test them and see what they can deliver but do so calmly and with clear ROI goals in mind. Meanwhile, TV still works pretty well as is---which is why the upfront will probably see another uptick in ad spending this year.

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