Buy-side executives have been predicting and/or calling for the demise of the TV upfronts system for years now, and the upheaval wrought by the pandemic and the shift from linear to streaming has already forced significant change, or least adjustment.
In his most recent headline-generating declaration, Procter & Gamble Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard advocated replacing traditional upfronts and their exaggerated audience estimates and guarantees with a more efficient marketplace that would enable buying in more or less real time, rationalizing advertising frequency and improve viewers’ experience.
Of course, there are also those (especially on the sell side) who argue that more change and flexibility, rather than extinction, is what the system needs.
And at least one industry pro contends that it’s actually time to add another variety of upfront, specifically for national addressable advertising buys.
Not surprisingly, the proponent of this idea works for a major addressable ad-tech solution provider, Invidi Technologies. We asked Michael Kubin, the company’s executive vice president, media, to explain/defend this proposal.
What’s the rationale for expanding the upfronts, when many contend that the whole system needs to be overhauled or abandoned?
Kubin: “Part of the answer is addressability’s rapid expansion. Until recently, U.S. addressable ads have run only in the local minutes. But that’s quickly changing as national network inventory is opening to addressable technologies. Several major network groups have already announced their participation in national addressability, so addressable opportunities in higher-rated broad-reach programs either exist or are in the pipeline.
Just as important, addressable TV advertising is its own animal.
The network television buying and selling process is concentrated among very few people. A handful control the buy commitments at agency groups and deal directly with their network counterparts.
Addressable TV advertising is planned and bought by an entirely different group of people within agencies, who buy this inventory for entirely different reasons: targeted reach that needs a scalpel rather than broad reach.
At the recent Go Addressable conference, the investment heads at Dentsu and Horizon Media both called addressable television ‘complementary.’ Exactly. In contrast with other media, addressable delivers impressions within the coveted ‘bullseye’ with the added intelligence to track and optimize results.”
Who would benefit from a national addressable upfront?
Kubin: “Buyers and advertisers stand to benefit most in the early stages, because they’ll be buying more of the best inventory at, arguably, the lowest CPMs. But the networks also win because they’ll be facilitating a gusher of new advertising dollars.
If the addressable upfront requires a formal structure, it could be administered by Go Addressable, which acts as a kind of Switzerland for the industry. Their interest is aligned with that of both buyers and sellers: What’s best for everyone is an increasing volume of buys.
Basically, in the world of addressable advertising, everybody wins.”
How would the process work?
Kubin: “The best timing would be prior to the main upfront, serving as a powerful leading indicator for how strong the overall market will be. No ‘venue’ would be necessary. And, in contrast to the regular upfront, the addressable one could be set up with agreed-upon start and end dates, which might make the process more organized and less chaotic.”
Is the industry at all open to this, never mind ‘ready’ for it?
Kubin: “Getting the national addressable upfront off the ground would obviously require getting both the buyers and sellers on board — which is rarely easy, needless to say.
Inertia is always the biggest obstacle in our industry. We’ll hear the usual excuses: ‘We’ve never done this!’
But once someone — ideally an agency group — dips their toe in the water and demonstrates that it works, other buyers and networks will follow.
Despite initial skepticism, people in our industry, as in the rest of the marketplace, ultimately tend to act in ways consistent with their own financial interests. (Thank you, Adam Smith.)
Whatever your assessment of the traditional upfronts in today’s environment, I think it’s inarguable that ABC’s invention of the upfront sixty years ago propelled the television industry into an amazingly profitable future for buyers and sellers alike.
We are currently in the ‘hockey stick curve’ part of addressability’s lifespan, and an addressable upfront will serve to help propel television into its next phase of success.”