Commentary

Is This Year's Upfront A New Story Or Rerun?

Despite some worrisome metrics, TV networks are confident about this upfront season. Is there a silver cloud for digital media?

Many TV networks are trying to determine how to give TV marketers all that they want. NBCUniversal’s “CFlight” effort -- which offers a single audience guarantee for all screens -- is only one area.

Another is continuing efforts around new audience segments via Open AP -- a consortium of four TV network groups. Although it is still imperfect, it looks to supply better consumer targets for marketers.

But if you didn’t believe any of this, you might just go back to the basics: scatter-market activity.

Steve Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal, said in the recent Comcast earnings call that scatter advertising has been “quite strong” in the last three quarterly periods. And the first quarter was stronger than NBCU had enjoyed in a while.

Some analysts agree -- to an extent.

John Janedis, media analyst of Jefferies, says: “Looking ahead to the upfront, we expect somewhat of a mix shift, as dollars [are] likely to incrementally flow to larger broadcast and cable networks. As a result, we think upfront CPMs will increase in the mid-to-high, single-digit range as constrained supply helps to drive CPMs.”

He adds: “In total, volumes are likely to be up modestly. Separately, we continue to expect sequential national ad improvement from 1Q into 2Q.”

Still, the second-quarter national scatter TV business -- a key indicator of upfront activity -- remains a question mark, as it just started a few weeks ago.

Burke also believes that brand safety -- especially with ongoing issues around Facebook and Google’s YouTube -- will continue to make marketers hesitate and spend more on traditional TV.

But there are also signs going the other way. Procter & Gamble is making a leap back to some digital video.

After a year of putting the kibosh on YouTube videos -- P&G, which spends around $3 billion in media -- believes the right measures are now in place. It feels confident to buy 10,000 YouTube channels  -- down from the nearly 3 million it bought a few years ago.

Other marketers may be embolden; there are “human monitors” that can analyze content and advertising -- hopefully avoiding unfavorable video associations for advertisers.

“There is a pendulum swing that happens between traditional linear broadcast and cable and digital,” says Burke. “For a whole variety of reasons, advertisers are coming to the conclusion the pendulum ought to swing back in our favor. “

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