Cable TV 2008

Bridging the Digital Disconnect

With up to 70% of Cable Upfront Deals to Involve Online, Pressure Is on Shops to Craft Convergent Packages

By Published on .

As convergent deals and online-ad inventory become more of a norm for the cable upfront, one problem remains: streamlining the digital conversation.
Amy Baker
Amy Baker

This recently became apparent to Amy Baker, senior VP-ad sales at History (formerly the History Channel), when she met with the brand, agency and production teams for a multiplatform branded-entertainment deal. Ms. Baker arrived at the meeting to find 25 people at the table, including the chief marketing officer; the brand manager; the media manager; the digital team; the branded-entertainment group; and, of course, the buyers and planners for the media agency.

There were so many different influencers, Ms. Baker says, "you don't really necessarily know who the decision maker is."

Increasing multiplatform deals
Her confusion is likely to be shared by the rest of the industry as the cable market seeks to conduct anywhere from 50% to 70% of its total business based on multiplatform deals. Making sure all parties are equally educated on the different platforms is a major challenge.

Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative responded to this disconnect recently by creating a sales branch called Amphibian, a moniker alluding to deals that can live in multiple environments.

"There are silos on the sales side and just as many, quite frankly, on the client side," says Drew Corry, manager of the new unit and a former TV buyer for Initiative. "This is an effort to break that as much as we possibly can, so we can in-house control communications so nothing's lost and follow it from its germination to all these other TV platforms."
Drew Corry
Drew Corry Credit: David Neff

Ms. Baker says she would like to see more of this happening across the board.

"Conceptually, [converged deals] are extremely powerful; they're what clients want," she says. "But it's challenging on the agency side to get all the departments lined up to be able to truly execute convergent packages."

Even so, the agencies' comfort level with bringing new media to the upfront table seems to be considerably higher than it was even two years ago.

Don't forget the old ways
"We're still going to see that linear TV is going to drive [upfront] deals," says Chris Allen, VP-director of video innovation at Starcom, Chicago.

"But we'll definitely see more clients come into the digital space that have been hesitant in the past," he says. "We've seen research to help make people comfortable to see there is value in putting money into more platforms outside of linear TV."

The networks are upping their antes online as well.

MTV Networks recently formed a Digital Fusion group to more effectively equip the organization across platforms to manage the most intricate deals.

One of the group's first campaigns, a partnership with T-Mobile, began as an "Entourage"-esque online miniseries for a T-Mobile microsite and eventually incorporated elements from all of MTVN's properties, from an online widget to a Shockwave series of puzzle games to an integration in MTVU's Woodie Awards.

Jason Witt, senior VP-general manager of Digital Fusion, says such deals are tailor-made for upfront negotiations because that's when all sides of the table are most receptive to larger idea sharing.

"We work best if we have a certain stable of advertisers," Mr. Witt says. "We know the messages they're trying to get out, and our portfolio of internal ideas matches with their external objectives."

Complementing web properties
Other cable companies have taken to building lifestyle sites to complement their web properties. Scripps Networks last year acquired sites such as Recipezaar and Pickle to add to a portfolio that includes websites for the Food Network and HGTV. It also launched FrontDoor, a real-estate site that serves as a companion to HGTV.

Collectively, Scripps' five main sites attract 16 million unique visitors a month and have helped the company make digital ad revenue 10% of its overall haul.

Jon Steinlauf, Scripps' senior VP-ad sales, says now that established networks such as Food Network and HGTV have essentially stopped growing from their share of subscriber fees on TV, creating more monetization opportunities online has become crucial.

As for online video taking a larger share of upfront dollars this year, well, don't go making 10 more 15-second pre-rolls just yet.

"It's still very small and takes a long time to deliver the reach traditional TV does," Starcom's Mr. Allen says. "I don't think anybody is looking to online video as a way to replace TV reach."

However, recent research shows that online viewing can balance out audience demos across linear TV and web video. "That's a reach builder in and of itself," he says.
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