Are the upfronts turning into TV execs’ personal “Black Mirror'' episode?
The annual feeding frenzy—in which C-suite television executives auction off highly-viewed (and costly) advertising time slots— is changing as new streaming behemoths shake up the market. The event often gives viewers and industry watchers insight on what shows are poised to become cultural phenomena, but that too seems to be disrupted at this year’s proceedings.
It’s been two years since major networks and television players convened in New York for a week, and it’s clear that technology is going to change a lot about how the process works.
Streaming, a popular way to view content, doesn’t follow traditional ad slots the way broadcast does. Nonetheless, last year ad-enabled streaming services–including Peacock and Hulu–slurped up a large slice of ad dollars. But this year may prove a turning point, as services like HBOMax and Disney Plus begin tinkering with ad-laced streaming, and Netflix promises to quickly roll out an ad-supported subscription tier. Large networks like ABC and NBC will have to start competing with streaming for the favor of companies and their ad money.
Another thing changing the market: the ads themselves. With more data at their fingertips, streaming services can offer far more personalized and targeted services than their network counterparts. Netflix and Disney collect mountains of data that can gauge what ads are most relevant to their viewers. That’s a huge plus for advertisers, even if streaming services like Disney restrict what kind of ads it will show.
Legacy TV companies have already taken note. NBCUniversal took great pains at Monday’s pitch meeting to offer their Peacock streaming service as an example of a dual streaming-and-broadcast model and lambasted streaming services that once showed disdain for advertisers and ad breaks.
“At those companies, advertising could seem like an afterthought… or even worse, a new idea for a revenue stream, but not here,” NBCUniversal’s ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “At NBCUniversal, advertising has always been an asset for our business… designed to enhance your business.”
Adding to the instability, Nielsen ratings, which has been the universal standard for measuring viewership, is being challenged. The company’s ratings were once the gold standard used, in part, to determine the time slots and networks that had the most viewers (and which became the most coveted by advertisers).
Last year, Variety reported major networks complained that the company was likely undercounting viewership due to pandemic-related restrictions, like being unable to go into peoples’ homes and making sure the data-collecting technology was properly working. In its wake, software-enabled startups have popped up to better gather data remotely.
Washington-based iSpot.tv received a $325 million investment from Goldman Sachs after acquiring similar companies including El Segundo-based Ace Metrix and Temecula-based DRMetrix. Pasadena-based tvScientific raised $20 million in April to glean adtech data from smart tvs. Edward Norton’s adtech firm EDO raised $80 million in April and booked a deal with Discovery ahead of the upfronts.
Nielsen also lost its accreditation with the Media Ratings Council, and without a standard ratings guide for the industry, navigating the upfronts will be a far more uncertain and nebulous process for both networks and advertisers.
With tens of billions of dollars on the line, advertisers are demanding more than just well-produced shows networks and streaming services alike—sophisticated ad placements is the name of the game.
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