Aol Announces Programmatic Upfront

timFlexing his salesmanship skills, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong announced to a group of reporters last night in New York City that his company would undertake its “first ever Programmatic Upfront event” on September 23, which is to coincide with the beginning of Advertising Week festivities in New York.

Seated to Armstrong’s left during the announcement was new Aol Networks CEO Bob Lord who is no stranger to the “upfront” concept and was already passionately toeing the company’s programmatic “line.”  At Lord’s former agency holding company employer, Publicis agency Digitas spearheaded the development of the Digital Content Newfronts, the digitally-focused version of the TV Upfront.  The Newfronts event still leaves some wondering if there really is any new, upfront business that gets done at the event.  Could a programmatic “upfront” be different – less about a party and sales pitch and more about real business?

In a press packet, Aol promises to bring together marketers and agency executives at the September 23 event that will illustrate “why upfront programmatic commitments are critical to their business.”  Whatever happens – the “programmatic” freight train is moving full-steam ahead industry-wide and Aol’s CEO is rolling the dice, yet again, in attempt to put Aol in a leadership position and drive the bottom line.

Defining the programmatic upfront, Armstrong said this was more about a technology upfront – clients will come to Aol to use its programmatic buying technology (AdLearn Open Platform, Marketplace, etc.) and avoid “the tax” (see slide below) of working with multiple platforms and so-called point solutions which supposedly nibble away at the profits and efficiencies for marketers and publishers.    The “tax” is an oft-invoked concept by larger platforms that may wish to dissuade platform buyers from going with smaller, sometimes more nimble solutions.

As for the media side to the Programmatic Upfront, there are no (publicly-expressed) expectations around selling volumes of PC-based display or mobile or video, etc.  Aol’s pitch is first about the platform and buying across screens, across devices – and from there video and mobile ads are key channels.

According to Aol, the timing of the upfront, other than beating anyone else that might have this idea (Google!!), is to capture “Q4 flex budget” as a global marketing economy looks to programmatic media to close the loop on holiday shoppers – as well as purge the last dollars of its annual marketing spend.  Armstrong also said the Upfront was inspired by interest his company is seeing for larger commitments on the sales side today though he refused to provide specifics.

Ad technology maven and former Aol Networks CEO Ned Brody would seem to have loved this sales strategy.  If he does pop up over at Yahoo, or even if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Yahoo climb aboard the Upfront event concept, especially given all of the talk about “programmatic” by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer during her company’s last earnings call.

Armstrong said that others are welcome to create their own Programmatic Upfront event to coincide with Aol’s.  Aol Networks CMO Allie Kline will likely be busy drumming up interest.  If Aol can turn this into a programmatic “swarm,” it’s a good thing.  Aol and its CEO Tim Armstrong want to lead.




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