Is Digital Video Ready To Enter The Upfront?

With the broadcast upfront recently wrapping up, I was curious to know what role digital video had in this year’s contract negotiations.  Since broadcasters all have digital properties, it would make sense that they would contract some of that advertising space along with traditional television programming time.  In order to get the inside story, I contacted a broadcasting expert, Christine Merrifield, MediaVest's senior vice president of video investment and activation.  

Mike Cassidy:  With the upfront season just wrapping up, it would be great to get your perspective to hear how it went and where digital fit in.

Christine Merrifield:  It [digital] really hasn’t been a major factor in the upfront yet. To tell you the truth, it was a little bit surprising considering the entire buzz regarding online video.
At MediaVest, we were well prepared going into the upfront process.  We had numerous meetings with our digital folks, and we had our digital leads alongside our linear leads ready and willing to go -- but it never materialized.

Cassidy: Do you envision a secondary upfront for digital?

Merrifield: No, I’m thinking big deals will get done in the upcoming weeks.  However, the majority of digital dollars will continue to land on a campaign-by-campaign basis.

What did become part of the deal is what we call the emerging television, VOD. Because there are limited opportunities, that space does sell out.  At MediaVest, we have a lot of clients that participate there.  So, for the broadcast and cable networks that have the VOD opportunities, those dollars are committed with television.

Cassidy: Who do you think is influencing the digital video spend?

Merrifield:  All investments are based on brand objective/strategies. It’s targeting, not buyer influence.  If I’m a client and a large integrated deal is being proposed, yes, I’d look for input from all my lead investment people. Take a show like “American Idol,” which has many tentacles. Knowing which piece [medium] works best for the brand is a larger focus then ‘who’ is going to negotiate the buy.  The days of multi-platform, one-size-fits-all are long gone -- and for good reason. Who will influence the digital video spend? Negotiators are not the ones with the magic key, but, rather, it’s the video offering and the target it attracts that carry the most influence.

Cassidy:  So, who do you think owns the online video buy moving forward?  Do you think it’s a partnership between broadcast and digital teams? Or, do you think it sits with one group over another moving forward?  

Merrifield:  At MediaVest we truly view ourselves as video buyers. Therefore, wherever it makes the most sense to ‘buy’ the content, we will.  To date, in most places, it is a separate sales team selling the digital.  However, I do see us moving along the continuum at a faster pace in 2008.

Cassidy: What do you think about the research and the reporting online with video?  

Merrifield: Third-party reporting is not as robust as we’d like it.  The digital numbers are in aggregate, which is a far cry from the linear minute/minute we can currently get.  Overall, aggregate numbers aren’t very useful.
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