With this terrible public health crisis unleashing extraordinary disruption on every part of the media industry, there’s no time like the present to bring some much-needed transformational ad reform to the business. As noted economist Paul Romer has observed, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”
Apparently, the Association of National Advertisers agrees. Less than two weeks ago, its Media Advisory Board called for reform of the television advertising upfront marketplace.
Here are its directives:
"Recognizing the opportunities for change brought forward by the current crisis, the ANA Media Advisory Board advocates that:
• The television upfront shift from a broadcast year to a calendar year to reflect and improve business planning, elevate marketer decision-making, and align television buying with most marketers’ fiscal years. This is an immediate priority.
• The ANA addresses other critical issues pertaining to the marketplace. These include greater visibility to the marketplace, ratings estimates rooted in more realistic research, increased financial flexibility throughout the year, and an improved ability to measure business results from our investments.
• The ANA elevates long-term media transformation initiatives, including cross-platform measurement and the transition to a digital ecosystem without third-party cookies."
I believe the ANA is right. The implementation of its directive would significantly improve the lot for many media practitioners, not just advertisers. Here are my reasons why:
Timing alignment will only help increase TV ad spend. The timing of the upfront today does not align with how most marketers operate their businesses. Simple. The spring timing of the upfront is an artificial relic of a fall-dominated TV programming debut calendar.
Yes, changing the timing will add further disruption to how TV networks and agency buyers run their businesses -- but creating better alignment with advertisers can only make it easier for them to spend more on TV.
Fix forecasting. At the core of tens of billions of dollars of upfront TV ad commitments each year are sets of planning models produced by the TV network groups and tested against planning models produced by the agency buyers. These models have been much more wrong than right for most of the past 10 years. They are a vestige of the days when ratings kept going up each year, particularly in cable, so if you overestimated your ratings you could always kick the can down the road with make-goods.
This was also one of the reasons that TV ad sellers and buyers have had to stick with such a broad, generalized currency like gross rating points and sex/age demographics. Trying to guarantee for true strategic targets was too hard when your projections were so broad and not very accurate. And none of this process has gotten better, as both agencies and TV companies have gutted their research departments over the past years.
Delivering transparent, accurate and granular audience estimates is certainly quite possible today. All TV ad sellers today have access to very robust predictive analytics, massive sets of directly measured TV viewing data, and lots of data scientists to do the work.
Yes, those models can even be adapted to extraordinary changes in viewing behaviors like we’re seeing today. Fixing this can only create more trust and comfort among advertisers, and result in more spending.
Make cross-platform measurement real. De-duplicating audiences and ad deliveries across television and online video is not rocket science. Both the ANA and the WFA are driving initiatives to help solve this issue, and there is strong participation from major measurement companies and major digital platforms like Google and Facebook. Roku just announced this week that it is going to sell based on proven unduplicated reach on its connected TV ad platform.
This is very doable. Let’s make it happen industrywide as soon as possible.
What do you think? Is this a good time to help advertisers better leverage their TV ad spend -- and ideally spend more?