"The upfront meeting that has been about television for so long is making some efforts to become more of a holistic conversation," said John Swift, executive director-managing partner at Omnicom Group's PHD.
MediaVest kick-started the trend in February by shifting $100 million of Procter & Gamble's TV dollars into cinema, a move the agency's chief activation officer, Donna Speciale, discussed at the Association of National Advertisers' TV Forum later that month. "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."
MediaVest and P&G also bet on online video in 2006, when they become some of the first to do video upfronts with Yahoo. The fallout from the writers strike, coupled with a relative dearth of scalable, premium video content, has prompted more than 20 marketers to seek out upfront video buys with Yahoo, said the portal's director of video strategy, Rebecca Paoletti.
"We saw clients who never bought online video before get interested," she said. "We found ourselves doing a lot of outreach around January and February with direct-response advertisers to show they could actually do the same thing in the online-video space. There's a growing funnel of more and more people understanding how to use video."
Mostly single digits
But with only a few major exceptions (General Motors Corp. announced it would spend 50% of its $3 billion marketing budget in digital channels in the next three years), the budget increases aren't soaring past the double digits just yet.
Several key buyers and sellers projected non-TV spending would account for 8% to 10% of all upfront deals this year, around the same percentage as last year. However, 50% to 75% of deals are expected to include integrated components. While digital inventory has graduated from last-minute add-on as recently as two years ago, the lack of scalable destinations to replace TV impressions remains a barrier to advertisers looking to effectively replace their media spend.
Agencies are equipping themselves to deal in digital with more expertise too. Since last year's upfront, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative has formed Amphibian, a digitally integrated TV-buying group, and agencies such as Publicis Groupe's Zenith and Omnicom's OMD have restructured their TV- and digital-buying groups to cut more platform-neutral deals. Aegis Group's Carat has reorganized its operations around digital.
"Video's the part of digital that gets so much press, but when I think of digital marketing, I'm thinking about search," Mr. Swift said. "The video piece of it is nice to talk about, but you need to be able to extend what you're doing on the biggest, most mass-reach platform to reach the people you care about."
Persuading clients to create more digital-specific copy for pre-roll and display ads remains a big challenge for many media buyers. "The production cost with producing additional assets in the online space become cost-prohibitive for advertisers, so sometimes it's easier to produce an actual TV spot," said Chris Allen, VP-video innovation at Starcom. "Do you really get a lift if you create online-specific copy? Hopefully by the time the new upfront starts we'll be able to determine what creative assets are going to be really valuable."
Both CBS and NBC will plug their out-of-home assets during their companywide sales pitches this week to tout extra reach and added value, a rare opportunity for otherwise small, niche players in fragmented media to get more consideration from buyers and planners.
"It used to be that TV-buying groups would shut their doors to other vendors for six weeks," said Suzanne Alecia, president of the Out-of-Home Video Advertising Bureau.