ViacomCBS Upfront: More Ad Dollars Shift To Streaming

This time a year ago, there was major upheaval in the linear TV advertising market due to the COVID-19 pandemic -- with lots of unknowns. Now in 2021, the forthcoming upfront TV market seems more familiar -- even as the business shifts to new streaming platforms.

“Going into the marketplace, the demand is up versus a year ago, and supply is down versus a year ago,” Jo Ann Ross, president and chief advertising revenue officer, ViacomCBS Domestic Advertising Sales, tells Television News Daily. “So, you do the math.”

But there is a positive solution -- at least from the TV network perspective.

While that decline in live, linear TV ratings is steepening, there is sharply rising viewing in streaming ad-supported TV platforms -- especially TV networks’ new growing premium streamers.

For ViacomCBS, this means its revamped Paramount+ -- as well as Pluto, its free, ad-supported platform, with 50 million global monthly active users -- moves deeper into the space. To that end, ViacomCBS says it has seen 62% year-over-year growth in streaming advertising revenue.

How much will move this year to premium streaming via this upfront market?

Executives worry about shifting major dollars to premium video platforms -- in some cases 20% to 30% of advertisers' regular live, linear TV budgets -- to network-owned streaming platforms. Ross says this comes down to a discussion.

“Are we as an industry saying you have to move 30%? No. We are working with our clients asking: ‘Where do you see places where you could reallocate dollars? How can we help you keep your base linear dollars so you don’t lose your base pricing?”

She adds: “Linear is still important. Nobody is running from linear. [Advertisers] are just doing 'makes sense' reallocation in a year where we saw linear TV ratings declining more than we have before.”

Those calculations have media executives saying the obvious: That pricing will be higher, perhaps more so -- at least mid-double-digit percentage cost-per-thousand (CPM) price gains versus a year ago.

While there is strong interest among advertisers to move some TV budgets to connected TV platforms, Ross says the whole new CTV/OTT video ecosystem isn’t equal. Many video platforms don’t offer “premium” network TV-quality original content.

With one full year as ViacomCBS, Ross says the company is going to the marketplace as a “unified” sales force -- with a massive footprint. ViacomCBS says it is No. 1 in total reach. “We are reaching very diverse audiences, and through all genres,” she says.

Also, ViacomCBS is working to boost emphasis of its EyeQ unit, an advertising platform for premium digital video inventory, which can manage digital ad investments across Pluto TV, Paramount+, and its owned and operated digital video  apps -- ET Live, CBSN, TV Everywhere apps for MTV, Nickelodeon, BET, and CBS Sports HQ.

“If you are buying cable, if you are buying broadcast, you should be buying ViacomCBS EyeQ as well,” she says.

ViacomCBS’ Vantage unit continues to make advanced data-targeting ad deals. The company touts that it has the largest addressable TV footprint, with some 40 million homes.

As it did a year ago, in the digital media space, it will offer “content bundles” that will mirror programming, impressions and/or dayparts advertisers have traditionally bought on linear and cable TV network “to add to that reach.”

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