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As Video Goes Mainstream, TV, Digital Agency Execs Fight Over Who Owns It

TV Buyers Are Skilled in Negotiation, and Digital Teams Know the Back End -- Which Can Lead to Clashes

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TV and digital buyers within media agencies are changing their relationship status from "in a relationship" to "married."

Let's hope they don't change it to "divorced" by the end of the upfronts.

The teams are tying the knot as digital video steps up in this year's TV upfront negotiations and the NewFronts grow tenfold, with major presentations by YouTube, Vevo and Hulu, among others. In some cases, agencies are restructuring or elevating digital roles to create more multiscreen plans and buys for clients. But in doing so they're also fueling tension between buyers that grew up in different worlds.

"We're finding that our TV buyers who are experts in negotiation strategies are able to negotiate better value, in some cases, than our digital teams, but the digital teams know the back end of digital in terms of tagging, trafficking, stewardship and maintenance," said Carat U.S. President Doug Ray. "That means greater collaboration and blurring between the lines in structure."

Carat, part of Aegis, is evolving to account for the trend. Ginger Taylor White, who runs the publishing group (formerly known as the print group) had reported to the TV team while working closely with the digital team. Now she reports to Walt Cheruk, who was most recently exec VP-digital media and is moving into a media-integration role. "We've reorganized so print can migrate to publishing, and there are more synergies reporting in to the digital lead," said Mr. Ray.

Interpublic Group of Cos.' UM also recently updated its talent structure and promoted global digital lead David Cohen to the newly created role of chief media officer. National broadcast lead Dani Benowitz, who reports to Mr. Cohen, has taken on print and digital responsibilities via an "integrated investment" title. Catherine Warburton, who recently left UM for Zoom Media & Marketing, had also moved into a similar role, reporting to Mr. Cohen.

"We've been talking about video TV and online [integration] for many years, but the stars are aligning around several industry efforts to make it more of a reality this year than ever before," said Mr. Cohen, referring to the rapid expansion of the NewFronts.

Similarly, Publicis Groupe 's MediaVest created a "senior video task force" of digital and TV groups that "meets on a weekly basis to understand what clients are looking for," said Yolanda Lam, senior VP-digital group client director. The group is led by Digital President Amanda Richman and Christine Merrifield, who oversees TV as president-video investment and activation.

From the media owner's perspective, the changes are necessary. "Some agencies are already moving toward video buyers," said Ed Erhardt, president-customer marketing and sales for ESPN. "That's an exciting new proposition, that an agency develops people with video-buying skill sets, because it creates knowledge about how video works in different screens and, most importantly, how it works together."

The realigning of TV and digital video talent is intended to result in better plans and buys for clients. But behind the scenes, industry executives reluctantly acknowledge that opinions clash. "We're writing the rules today for things that have not been done before, so yes, there are animated conversations around the pluses and minuses about the value online brings relative to TV," said Mr. Cohen. "That's totally cool. What we cannot do is just simply the same thing we did last year because [change] is hard or we don't agree."

Mike Rosen, president-investment and activation at Publicis Groupe 's Starcom, joked about his close relationship with Digital Managing Director and Exec VP Mark Pavia, because of the "explosion of online video."

"As a newly married couple, we're still trying to make each other better," said Mr. Rosen. "There are terrific debates and interesting discussions about what's the driver: Is it content; is it data? Is it more important to drive against audiences or content?"

Any head-butting that occurs as part of this collaboration is only temporary, executives agree. In the future, digital video will be second nature to most lead planners and buyers. "The people who will be leading strategy and execution for the agency will be amphibious in thinking, and traditionally and digitally adroit,"said Tim Spengler, CEO of IPG buying group MagnaGlobal.

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