How Will Audience-Based Buying Change the TV Upfronts?

By Mary Vestewig  | 

The upfront system was originally designed to help ad buyers make advance commitments for the upcoming TV season. But in an era of multi-screen, multi-platform entertainment, focusing just on TV alone isn’t enough anymore. How will the TV networks and new technology tools change how advertisers make “upfront buys” in 2017? Based on a number of signals from the industry, it seems likely that a more flexible, “audience-based” approach to the upfronts is in store. Here’s what to expect:

The TV Upfronts Will Likely Become More Audience-based
The TV upfronts are poised to take a page from the book of digital advertising, with media buys designed to purchase the format or “screen” that is best able to reach a target audience. Digital advertisers use customer data to inform their audience targeting. Increasingly, it looks like that capability is coming to television. Programmers like Viacom, NBCUniversal and A&E are all building digital-style buying systems that allow TV advertising to become increasingly data-driven and audience focused. Instead of simply buying TV spots for a specific show, networks are packaging content for advertisers that includes multiple events and screens – from Connected TV and mobile apps — that appeal to the audience for that show.

TV Upfronts Will Occur Year-round Rather Than All at Once
The traditional upfront process was structured around the TV production calendar. New shows were approved in the spring, and advertisers made their commitments well in advance of the fall broadcast season. But with more shows launching digitally at all times of the year, the growth of new non-TV digital producers, and a proliferation of screens to watch TV content, this once-a-year upfront schedule is no longer adequate. Expect to see “upfronts” adjust to a more continuous “always on” buying approach in response.

TV Upfront Budgets Will Become More Flexible
In the past, TV upfronts represented the bulk of media buying in a given year. Anything not purchased in an upfront was purchased with “scatter” buys, set aside to buy digital inventory or allocated to programmatic techniques. However, as the balance of advertiser spending shifts increasingly toward digital, it no longer makes sense to “front-load” all TV ad buying during one event.

TV is changing, and advertisers’ approach to the medium is changing along with it. The TV upfronts will always be an important piece of the advertising ecosystem, but expect this annual event’s role in that ecosystem to evolve in the very near future.

Mary Vestewig
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