In The Year 2025, Will The Upfront Still Be With Us? What About COVID-24?

Ah, good old Joe. Mandese started Monday's "Upfront 2025 - 2026" with some "good news." He said that five years from now we'll be looking back on the creation of Bristol Myers' Tesla-created COVID-19 vaccine that helped us gain immunity. But COVID-24 "has forced us at MediaPost to again postpone a physical event." Indeed: Pandemic II had arrived. In 2025, said Mandese, we'll have a President Harris, Facebook will have merged with Trump Nation, and it will have just one advertiser: My Pillow Guy.

MediaPost's Mandese, who has been covering the upfronts since Ronald Reagan's first term, asked his gathered panel, "Will there be an upfront in 2025?"

Carrie Drinkwater, Head of Investments at Mediahub, cautioned that there ought to be a more diverse group of people representing the upfronts but affirmed that "demand from premium advertisers looking for brand awareness will still be there. Clients and marketers will be chasing quality, culturally relevant content."

"If the intention of upfront is an advanced purchase to get a benefit, said Catherine Warburton, Chief Investment Officer at 360i, "upfront will be with us. I am hoping the future will be more focused on clients than on the marketplace and agencies."

Tim Hill, EVP, Integrated Investment at UM, agreed, but foresaw a smaller scene. "Flexibility will be generated by negotiations but some clients will want more than upfront can provide and may decide to opt out."

"Locking in a price is valuable to advertisers so they know what the fixed cost is throughout the year," said David Campanelli, Executive Vice President-Chief Investment Officer at Horizon Media, adding that there will be different types of media with less of a focus on TV as the main driver.

Mandese wanted to know why agencies are registering their budgets with the networks.

"With any kind of advance deal, you have to let the person you're negotiating with have an idea of what the demand is," said Warburton. "But the difference between that and what upfront has been prior to this, is that the networks counted the house, which put us as agencies at a disadvantage." Going forward, she predicted, they won't be able to count the house and things will be more challenging for the seller.

Decades ago, remembered Campanelli, there were more agencies around. But, with consolidation, the agencies are "negotiating what we're buying and how much we're spending, which allows us to exchange those elements for price elements. 

"This year forced a different way to approach upfront and marketing will benefit the buy side, and individual client bases over and extended period of time."

About the move to biddable media involving OTT and connected TV, Andrew Sandoval, Director, Biddable Media at The Media Kitchen, said that as programmatic buying increases, over the next five years agencies and clients will be buying mostly video on TV screens, with TV being just another screen for auction-based media buying. Upfront, he said, will never go away because "whether it's locking in pricing, getting the lowest prices by buying upfront, that's where auction-based buying will excel in five years."

"It's a natural progression," agreed Warburton. "The screen might be a TV screen but it is addressable. Anything addressable is closer to the consumer."

Drinkwater foresees that a portion of media buying will go to biddable "but, again, advertising brand awareness will continue to have a place in investment strategies."

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