The ISP giant, a unit of Time Warner, spends more than $200 million annually on measured media. AOL had been making some changes to its plans last week before it emerged that it would drop out of the upfront altogether in favor of spending throughout the year in the scatter market instead.
While upfront commitments allow for cancellations, the move is surprising given that marketers signal their intent to participate in the upfront before beginning negotiations. An AOL spokeswoman said the late move was not unusual. "We are revamping our creative strategy, as often happens in the summer," she said. "It is part of larger strategic review, so we thought it best to step back before making such a large commitment upfront."
Initiative is AOL's media agency of record. Reps for the broadcast networks had no comment.
Before the upfront sales talks, a number of agencies discussed the declining importance of the event as new digital opportunities can arise at any point throughout the year. Yet for the bulk of marketers it remains a crucial planning tool for the rest of the year.
ABC still working
AOL would not be the first advertiser to sit out the upfront. Johnson & Johnson has also said it prefers to buy outside of the upfront negotiating period.
Walt Disney Co. network ABC still had not wrapped business as of July 3, but is expected to finish today. The other broadcasters have finished the main business and, with NBC's new NFL money included, the upfront ended at $8.95 billion, down from $9.1 billion last year. Excluding football, the market is expected to be down around $300 million to $400 million.