Imedia survey finds support for an online upfront market

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[Santa Ana Pueblo, N.M.] The broadcast networks have one. The cable industry does too. So, with more dollars trickling into the digital space, attendees at last week's iMedia Brand Summit debated whether the online medium is ready for its own upfront.

Imedia Communications executives surveyed 100 brand marketers and 100 agency buyers in recent months and found 94% of respondents believe an upfront is a good idea, while 78% of online buyers said they would attend an open marketplace. "We are not advocating negotiation of impressions and CPMs during this process," said Derek Hewitt, president, iMediaLearning. The proposal was for a two-day event in New York held twice a year, in May and October.

Despite survey results suggesting that a majority of the brand marketers queried thought some type of upfront or preview was a good idea, conference attendees appeared opposed to the proposal. "The issue I have with October is that we have to commit those dollars by Oct. 1, we're out talking about first quarter 2004 now," said Carole Walker, director of e-communications, advertising and strategy, Kraft Foods. "The idea, generically, is a great idea but agencies and clients don't know what's going to be happening over the course of a year, there are some clients that plan all year round," said Adam Gerber, senior VP-group director, strategy and innovation, Publicis Groupe's MediaVest.

"What about cancellations?" wondered David Cohen, senior VP, Universal McCann Interactive, New York, a unit of Interpublic Group of Cos.

Some said a digital product preview would be more useful. "Don't call it an upfront," suggested Karin Goss, senior VP-media director, GM Mediaworks. "It's our responsibility as advertisers and agencies to educate our bosses on media mix. This should be a higher-level dog-and-pony show, not an upfront." .

`elephant in the room'

"I'd like to see a fall-preview type of event," agreed Neil Perry, senior director-national marketing, McDonald's Corp.

Others didn't see how an upfront would benefit the industry. "The TV upfront model is broken," said Wenda Harris Millard, Yahoo!'s chief sales officer, who added that the "elephant in the room" is pricing. "There's a chance we could commoditize this industry ... an upfront is going to crush prices," Ms. Millard said, adding that marketers don't plan a year in advance anymore.

Joanne Bradford, chief revenue officer, Microsoft Corp.'s MSN, argued that the print media hasn't gone to an upfront. "We don't want to be tainted with the upfront auctions mentality."

Not all are opposed. "I think it would benefit both advertisers and publishers because in the past, [interactive] was just a piecemeal buy," said Tim Armstrong, VP-advertising, Google. However, he conceded, "I don't think there's critical mass on the advertisers' part."

"I'm a big believer in online and interactive, but I'm not sold on the idea of a big experimental upfront," said Bill Sidwell, director-global brand strategy and management for Hewlett-Packard Co. He said that HP participated in its first TV upfront this year.

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