IAB Aims To Bring Traditional TV Into Expanded 2021 NewFronts

As media giants increasingly shift focus from linear television to streaming — and following a pandemic year that forced them to jettison their usual live, star-studded upfront TV preview/sales events — the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is moving to expand its 2021 NewFronts to include traditional television and all types of “video” media.

Agency buyers “could not have been more clear coming out of the 2020 NewFronts: They want to move the video marketplaces closer together to make it easier to buy,” David Cohen, CEO of the national digital media and marketing trade association, said in announcing the expansion.

“A single marketplace that spans web video, connected TV, ad supported video on demand, free ad supported streaming TV, as well as traditional cable, linear, and satellite gives us a clear view of the entire video opportunity,” added Matthew Sweeney, chief investment officer, GroupM U.S. 

The NewFronts, started in 2008 to help digital media compete for television advertising dollars, have sometimes included the digital divisions of legacy-based media, including those of major television players — but not their traditional TV lineups. 

Last year, magazine media's Condé Nast unveiled a shoppable video ad unit and a podcast network based on its brands, amid emerging and established streaming and social media platforms including YouTube, Roku, Hulu, TikTok and Snap. 

In 2020, big television companies and agencies pivoted to virtual upfront presentations. And at this point, it appears that 2021’s NewFronts, like this year’s, will also need to be virtual. IAB’s release states that the event, which drew more than 14,000 brands and media buyers last year, will be “live-streamed for buy-side attendees.” 

Virtual or not, the question is whether growing pressure to enable truly integrated, cross-media buys and the perceptions of their advertising clients will motivate television network sellers — who prize their one-to-one relationships and upfront events with buyers —  to participate in NewFronts presentations this year, in addition to or in place of upfronts. 

Predictions of the imminent demise of upfronts have been around nearly as long as the system itself, which has served for decades as a reliable framework enabling long-range marketing and media planning for both the buy and sell sides. 

Those predictions intensified this year, thanks not only to the pandemic’s unprecedented disruption, but to the ascension of programmatic buying, which is determined by buyers’ needs and timing, rather than seasonal considerations. 

“The untethering of buying from when it is in season to buying when you need it (and doing it in-house, as P&G does) is the proverbial bomb under the upfronts as we know them,” Flock Associates’ Maarten Albarda wrote in October, after Chief Brand Officer Mark Pritchard declared that Procter & Gamble was rethinking its approach to upfronts. 

However, while few seem to question the need to revamp the upfronts system to better reflect today’s realities, some have pointed out that a preponderance of clients would have to agree on new trading rules. 

It is not yet clear whether IAB might try to actually facilitate or coordinate one-to-one buyer/seller meetings during the NewFronts. 

And judging from Cohen’s remarks, the association does not expect to supplant upfronts, at least in 2021. 

“As the definitive marketplace for digital video, we are committed to facilitating the buying process, and will expand the NewFronts so that all participants can come together if they choose,” Cohen stated. “Our goal is to provide buyers with access to the best content, technology, and insights the industry has to offer.”

“Buyers are tired of incompatible measurement structures, differing currencies, technological complexities and the intricate negotiation that inevitably follows,” he added. “We’re confident that the next year or two will see major advancements in how video is bought and sold, and how the industry measures outcomes. There’s a lot of work ahead, but the time is now and having a more unified marketplace is a step in the right direction.” 

The 2021 NewFronts will be held during the week of May 3. 

IAB is also shifting its audio marketplace, IAB Podcast Upfront, to take place the following week (week of May 10).

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