Disney Ad Sales President Rita Ferro Showcases Data And Tech During Virtual Upfront

Disney Virtual Upfronts

Television upfronts normally showcase sizzle reels of upcoming shows to guide buyers’ investments.

But with programming in flux due to the coronavirus pandemic, Disney’s virtual upfronts turned the sizzle to its initiatives around linear addressability, attribution, programmatic and digital platform unification.

“We had more time to talk about our investment in data and technology,” said Disney head of ad sales Rita Ferro, who hosted a series of upfronts for agency holding companies, media and clients over the past week in lieu of an in-person event.

Besides focusing on data and technology, “one of the big topics this year is flexibility,” Ferro said. “It doesn’t mean they want to get out. It means moving money with eyeballs,” she said. For example, some buyers may want flexibility to move between sports and entertainment content given the uncertainty of what live sports might look like this fall.

Amassing digital scale: Hulu + Disney in one buy

Now that Disney has operational control of Hulu, both Disney and Hulu are going to market as a single buy dubbed Disney Hulu XP.

Marketers whose ads run across properties such as Hulu, Freeform, ABC and ESPN – on desktop, mobile and CTV – can all be managed in one buy. And buyers can finally control frequency across the entire Disney digital ecosystem of publishers.

“That’s what clients have asked us for,” Ferro said. “They bought us and others, and were not able to manage frequency across Hulu and the other publishers.”

Similar to Hulu, buys across all of the Disney video publishers will be priced according to completed view. And buyers will pay the same price across the entire ecosystem. Disney Hulu XP launches October 1.

Programmatic buyers will be able to take advantage of the combined scale of Hulu and Disney too, Ferro said.

They can bring their data and bid across Hulu and Disney. Programmatic guaranteed is on the road map too, but it will require more work to integrate Disney’s backend ad tech stack.

Linear addressability and attribution

Disney is also partnering with Nielsen on addressability and with Samba TV on attribution.

“We want to make linear TV look and feel more like digital from an addressability perspective,” Ferro said.

Tom Brady Disney Virtual Upfronts
Tom Brady showed up at the Disney virtual upfront.

To pilot addressability, Disney joined Nielsen’s addressability beta, which uses Nielsen tech to insert addressable TV ads into linear broadcasts. With Disney joining, 75% of linear TV ad impressions are now part of the pilot, according to Nielsen.

And as outcome-based buying rises in popularity, Disney is partnering with Samba TV to provide attribution for linear TV buys. Disney wants to help quick-service restaurants to measure foot traffic and automotive clients do location attribution around dealerships, for example.

Who’s making upfront deals?

The pandemic has dampened excitement for the upfront – with some predicting it will change forever.

But Ferro offered a more measured perspective. Long, multiyear sponsorships – such as those for sports – are still being bought by buyers thinking long term, she said.

Some direct-to-consumer brands, including Peloton and Chewy.com, have seen demand for their products flourish during the pandemic – so they’re doing more with Disney too, Ferro said.

During the pandemic, she sees some companies retreating to what’s familiar, while others are accelerating changes in how they go to market.

In the case of Disney, it’s moving even faster on its “one platform” approach than it would have pre-pandemic, Ferro said. The tech enables the flexibility buyers are demanding during a time of uncertainty, and it helps Disney accommodate buyers that aren’t ready to commit.

“We have been telling clients that we are here when they are ready to go,” she said. “They are the ones placing the dollars, and they have the ultimate power there.”

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