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Why the TV Upfronts Should Become Multiplatform

The newly appointed president of investment for multi-billion-dollar ad-buying firm Group M, Lyle Schwartz, received considerable attention for his recent call to reorganize the annual TV “upfront” event around new “multiplatform” audience criteria. One of the last holdouts of the traditional linear TV ad model, Upfronts are a throwback to the days when ad buyers made advertising commitments to TV networks in advance of the next season’s shows.  As consumer media habits have changed, so too has the nature of this once-monumental event. Here’s why this may finally be the year Schwartz’s request becomes a reality.

Younger consumers’ media habits are changing
By now, it’s no surprise to anyone in the advertising or media industry that younger viewers are changing the way they watch TV. But all these new habits, from time-shifting content to watching streaming video using connected TV, to watching content on “non-TV” devices like smartphones, aren’t often reflected in the current negotiating process for upfront TV deals. A new multiplatform model could help the industry better understand and measure these younger viewers’ habits while also earning more dollars for networks and more targeted audiences for marketers.

Media companies stand to benefit from a new model
TV networks are likely to earn more, not less, by taking on a more multiplatform audience approach to the Upfronts. Media companies like Viacom (MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central) that cater to younger viewers would likely see their audience numbers jump. Meanwhile, companies like Disney and Comcast, both of which rely heavily on live sports, would also get a boost from including more non-TV viewers.

Measurement tools for multiplatform viewing are getting better
As Lyle Schwartz noted in a recent profile, “I don’t think the audience ever really went away from viewing this content. I think that our ability to measure it, aggregate it and monetize it has been the leading problem.” In fact, a lack of good multiplatform measurement has always been a key barrier to rethinking the TV upfront process. However, new tools like Nielsen’s Total Audience, which takes into account multiplatform viewing, are likely to help change advertisers’ minds. “By the time we negotiate next year’s upfront,” said CBS Chairman-CEO Les Moonves, “we believe Nielsen’s new total audience ratings will be a big part of the negotiations.”

There’s no longer any doubt that consumers’ TV viewing habits are changing. For some time, that has caused problems for advertisers and media companies alike. But thanks to the tireless efforts of those in the advertising and media industries, we’re getting closer to an outcome that will help everyone involved thrive in the future.