It's Not Your Father's Upfront

The upfront isn’t what it used to be, but this week in New York City proved that the event is as important as ever.

Sure, the big broadcast networks don’t own all of the “eventing,” crowds and storylines anymore. Sure, what was a simple week with a limited number of big, similar presentations has become a complex week with a ton of different events, with less talk about specific shows, more talk about generalized content and live sports, and increasing talk about streaming, on-demand and audience-based targeting, and measurement.

All this sort of mirrors what’s happening to TV viewing today: more variety of programming from more sources, delivered in more places as and when viewers want it, with suppliers’ unending promise of eventual, digitally delivered perfection.

So, where 10 years ago we would have talked about whose shows, stars and over-the-top parties won the most plaudits from longtime upfront pundits, today we talk about who announced the best deals in sports rights and ad tech, and about all of the new venues folks are finding to host the ever-expanding number of upfronts, in a TV world now invaded by so many streamers and digital platforms.



Here's some of what was happening out there this week:

Newfronts are big, but upfronts are still the adult table of TV ad budgets. The giants of streaming -- Amazon, Google’s YouTube and Netflix -- are big tentpoles of the Newfronts, but they’re all in on the upfronts. And TikTok wants to elbow in, too.

Walled gardens aren’t just for consumer platforms. The Trade Desk made a lot of noise across the city this week for both taking on Google and YouTube for its “Peanuts”-like “pulling the football” on cookie-detraction (kudos to Terry Kawaja of DMS by LUMA for the imagery), and its high-priority move to drive adoption of Unified ID 2.0 with a consumer-facing Single Sign-On for “top 500” premium publishers. Yep -- sounds like a redux of Facebook Audience Network.

Netflix all in on ad tech (and NFL). For a newcomer to upfront week, Netflix knows how to make a splash, with both the biggest announcements in ad tech and sports. It’s opening up programmatic access to its inventory, starting with Magnite this summer. It’s building out its own proprietary ad-tech platform, just as it does in content streaming management, and it’s getting its first NFL rights, starting with two Christmas Day games this year.

Advanced audiences everywhere. Without question, we’re now seeing advanced TV ad technology go from barely a mention at an upfront five years ago, to the center of the stage, on pretty equal footing with content at almost every presentation, whether it was audience-first targeting, alternative audience measurements or addressability at scale.

What were your upfront takeaways?

1 comment about "It's Not Your Father's Upfront".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 16, 2024 at 5:42 p.m.

    Dave, if there were two separate upfronts as I have proposed---one for corporate, CPM-driven, eyeball tonnage buyers and the other for individual brands with higher CPMs and attempts at better targeting, better environments, etc. then what you are describing as the new wrinkles makes sense---at least for the brand by brand upfront. Unfortunately, it's not going down that way. As before, a very high percentage of the buys are going to be "must buys"---it's already decided that those dollars will go into sports, news, specials and prime time entertainment shows on the broadcast TV networks As for the rest, they will still be mostly 18-49/25/54  GRP buys with prearrainged dispositions by network type, platform type, daypart and in some cases by program genre. Most of the upfront hoopla is, as in past upfronts,  fluff --- light entertainment for the time buyers and client media execs-- and it's the "fun" part of the upfront. Soon the hard part begins and most of it will be done the same old way---- I'm sorry to say.

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