Even at the US upfronts TV has become a dirty word

Gavin AshcroftTV is big business, and nowhere is it bigger than in the US. Gavin Ashcroft travelled to New York for this year’s upfronts, but found even in the US TV has become a dirty word.

The New York Upfronts are a marquee industry event both in the US and globally, and when you read the list of venues from Madison Square Garden to Carnegie Hall and Radio City you get a real sense of the scale and spectacle you can expect.

There is a lot of great content coming down the pipeline with a raft of new shows from each of the networks – although I question whether there is one show that I could hang my hat on and say it will be massive.

What I found fascinating, however, was the tone of the presentations and what they each decided to address outside of the programming itself.

1. ‘It’s all about Premium Video’

Television is now the unsayable word and has only been uttered once in all of the presentations that I have attended. Probably because it conjures up images that firmly place the networks in the land that time forgot. Instead, the Networks have positioned themselves as purveyors of premium video content.

This is an intriguing shift in language and in the context of declining audiences and the subsequent loss of advertiser revenues the US TV market is predicted to be 5-6 per cent smaller in this upfront cycle. It could have been perceived as a little desperate but instead it came off as confident and assured.

We have a very interesting dynamic at play as online media owners attempt a land grab for traditional TV monies by embracing (some) TV measurement language. We also have the TV networks rebranding as Premium Video and embracing digital language in what is both a defensive measure but also a bold move to take ownership of what is becoming the prevailing language of our industry.

It is, after all, about content and the best content will win the day. The networks still produce the vast majority of the content that people want to watch, they just need to focus on the delivery method and develop an “on your terms” mentality.  It is no surprise that Netflix, Yahoo and Amazon are now developing original content; it is all well and good having a platform, but you also need the content, and exclusivity of content is going to be critical moving forward.

The reverse is also true, it’s good having the content but you also need to deliver it in the right way to succeed.

2. Let’s talk Viewability

nbcYes that’s right, viewability. NBC delivered an assured presentation, confident in their position as the number #1 network in the key 18-49 demographic and didn’t go much beyond replacing TV with premium video in the script.

Fox, however, had a much more sustained crack at online video and spent some time discussing viewability metrics.

They went as far as demonstrating what content looks like when you can only see 50 per cent of a player for two seconds (the current IAB definition of a viewable ad). They do make a valid point, and the definition of a viewable ad does need to be addressed. They showed the content again with the rallying call that on their platform content and commercials are 100 per cent viewable, 100 per cent of the time.

In regard to their digital platforms, they made the commitment to work to higher standards of viewability. What that looks like remains to be seen, but it got a good response from the crowd if the murmurings around me were anything to go by.

3. Beware the “wild west” metrics of digital media

Viewability also came up again at the Turner presentation. Turner went further and referenced the “wild west” metrics of digital media; the most aggressive stance in any of the presentations I attended. There is a fascinating tension here, as at the same time they are selling their own digital platforms which now include mobile device and wearable optimised products and apps.

In the presentations that I attended, Fox have managed this tension best by making the commitment to work to a higher standard of viewability than the industry benchmark. In my view, Turner left that question floating around the auditorium.

4.  Disrupting the network business model

Turner-LogoTurner is committed to disrupting their business model to bring competitive solutions to advertisers.

If their presentation is anything to go by, they are jumping into the convergent landscape with both feet. They are committed to delivering multiscreen campaigns and have invested into a data management platform called Targeting Now. This has given them next-gen ad serving capabilities through a product called “Audience Now”. Campaigns will be served across all of their platforms and optimised to chase the audience. In their view, this signals the death knell for day part buying.

Both products are out of beta and the tests have delivered over 20 per cent more of the target audience versus traditional buying. In their words – Data and content are officially hitched.

5. Data, Data, Data

foxBoth NBC and Fox focused some of their presentation on the role of data in improving both targeting and reporting of activity. NBC have a robust offering in the area and have a number of products from planning to buying to reporting that leverage data to improve the outcome for advertisers.

Fox referenced the recent purchase of True X but didn’t go any further than that in explaining what it would offer – but clearly they believe it is promising. Neither said the word programmatic which was maybe a bridge too far for this year’s presentation, but anyone forecasting the future can see addressable advertising coming down the pipeline soon enough for the big TV Premium Video networks.

I will be interested to see if any of our networks in Australia pick on the themes from the past week and the shifts in language when we launch into our very own 2016 Upfront season. If you can take ownership of the language – and the currency of our industry – you can stake a big claim to future ad dollars.

  • Gavin Ashcroft is chief strategy officer of Carat Australia

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