TV Upfront

Glitzy Upfront Pitches Don't Shape TV Budgets, Ad Buyers Say

61% of Attendees Say Events Had 'Neutral' Effect on Ensuring Ad Buys

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Glitzy upfront presentations have little influence on how advertisers allocate their fall budgets -- if you ask advertisers, at least.

Jo Ann Ross, president of ad sales at CBS, joking about the hard sell during the upfronts.
Jo Ann Ross, president of ad sales at CBS, joking about the hard sell during the upfronts.

With the end approaching for this year's upfront talks, where networks secure commitments for ad time in the approaching TV season, research firm Advertiser Perceptions asked over 300 marketers, agency executives and media buyers about the dog-and-pony shows that kick off negotiations. More than half -- 61% -- said attending the presentations didn't affect their decisions about allocating ad dollars.

"Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on upfront events… What's interesting to see is just how useful they are and how much they affect marketers and buyers decisions," said Bob Flood, VP-media consultant at Advertiser Perceptions.

The number of presentations has continued to grow, with over 70 events held this year, according to the firm. The addition of the NewFronts, digital video's attempt to steal some ad dollars from TV budgets, has significantly crowded the calendar.

The sheer number of presentations can now be draining, and in some instances, have a negative effect. Media executives at the top -- those making the big decisions -- find the increase in the number of events burdensome, with 31% of people at the VP level or above saying the increase in upfront and NewFront events has made them less useful.

"The people who matter most are getting annoyed that there are too many of them," Mr. Flood said.

Unfortunately for any would-be reformers, that annoyance is no license to quit putting on a show. "Anyone absent from the lineup will be noticed," he said. "They serve as a networking opportunity, are buzz-worthy and help develop more trustworthy relationships with the organization."

On average, each person attended 12 of these presentations, according to Advertiser Perceptions' research.

While networks try to outdo each other with celebrity appearance and stadium-worthy musical performances, only 4% called the presence of talent "extremely influential" on their decision to attend, their perception of a network or their ultimate investment. Some 42% rated talent "somewhat influential," while 38% called it "not very influential."

After-parties flowing with alcohol and passed apps fared worse, with just 5% calling them "extremely important" to their decision to attend a live upfront pitch, 30% saying they are "somewhat important" and 64% deeming them "not very" or "not at all" important.

Media buyers and their clients are predominantly looking to see new programming and hear about the network's strategy, Mr. Flood said.

Research and data has become an important part of the mix at the upfronts, where networks and web publishers were eager to call out stats favoring their stories. But numbers can be manipulated any way the networks like, Mr. Flood said, and 72% of media buyers and advertisers found the research provided at the presentations only somewhat relevant to their decision making.

While big media conglomerates often emphasize the potential of their entire portfolio during negotiations, media buyers and advertisers care more about the power of individual networks, according to the research.

Digital video was the hot topic this year, and on that front media executives agreed with sellers, with 75% saying they expected to increase spending in digital video over the next 12 months, compared to just 1% saying they expected to cut it.

The actual dollar amount going into the digital space is still small compared to TV, Mr. Cohen said. But there's no question money is coming out of broadcast TV, with 26% of respondents saying they plan to decrease the amount they spend on the Big Four networks. In comparison, 35% of those surveyed plan to spend more in cable TV this year.

In what's perhaps a bit of an anticlimax, buyers ultimately rated price as the most important factor. Some 82% of TV decision-makers and 76% of digital decision-makers said attractive pricing is the thing most likely to convince them to spend more. So, networks be warned: It doesn't matter if you have Jay-Z or Kanye West performing if your ads aren't an attractive value.

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