"Last year, everybody did a good job of creating change. It's a positive," Donna Speciale, president-investment and activation, MediaVest, said in a panel discussion at the Association of National Advertisers' TV & Everything Video Forum, held in New York on Feb. 28. The panel was moderated by Ad Age's Jonah Bloom.
Even with the first-step change of last year's upfront to commercial ratings, the industry still has a long way to go before the agencies and clients get the granularity they've been asking for, she added. "The accountability, in the late-night area and early morning, opened all vendors' eyes. It was everything we assumed -- people are not watching commercials."
The increased push for commercial engagement, coupled with the continued depletion in broadcast ratings from the writers strike, has caused buyers such as Ms. Speciale to move significant portions of their clients' budgets to other video-centric media-like cinema. MediaVest was prepared to spend $100 million that was originally earmarked for TV. "The dialogue has changed," Ms. Speciale said. "We've been trying to change the dialogue with our partners for so many years. I truly believe the upfront is going to be different. The clients don't want to buy what's not there."
As the focus has turned to idea-driven deals that need to be developed and executed on a looser timeframe, the concept of the upfront as the best place to secure efficient pricing for marketers' ad budgets has dwindled in many buyers' eyes. "The name 'upfront' has baggage to it. It's not forgiving," said Karen Crawford, director-media advertising and relationship marketing at Nestle USA, who said she would rather have a continuous buying mode and "more fluidity" in planning, rather than accelerating all the ideas and planning to fit into the upfront period.
Supply and demand
The issue of supply and demand has also come under increased scrutiny, particularly as upfront pricing becomes less and less efficient after commercial ratings for shows that underperform and scatter market prices are taken into effect. "The advertising market isn't based on what we pay for programs," said Marianne Gambelli, president-NBC Universal Network ad sales. "If it was, it would be even more inflated. The marketplace, in effect, is still a supply-and-demand marketplace, and when you look at the upfront versus everything else, it actually averages out pretty well."
With buyers looking for other alternatives, networks like NBC and CBS are making sure they are aware of all their content offerings this year, saying the upfront events will not only be playing up their digital assets but including other video outlets, such as out-of-home media. "NBCU is getting into these models because they know that [TV] model is not the only gig in town anymore," Ms. Speciale said.
Because of this lingering disconnect between pricing and results, Michael Teicher, exec VP-media sales for Warner Bros. TV group, was hesitant to make any public projections on the potential size of this year's upfront market. "It's a very strange business. In an unusual way, the poorer we do, the higher the prices go. It's really a matter of frustration."