Keeping the Value Chain Flowing At This Year’s TV Upfronts

"On TV And Video" is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in advanced TV and video. 

Today’s column is written by Jay Prasad, chief strategy officer at LiveRamp TV and Data Plus Math, and an IAB Video Board Member.

The goal coming out of upfronts used to be as simple as securing enough network inventory with the desired demo ratings-based reach, being in the hottest shows and sports programming and agreeing on rates.

Today, data-driven TV has given rise to far more powerful metrics than age and gender, unlocking a new era powered by outcome-based guarantees. The 2020 upfronts were ready for prime time. And then came the coronavirus.

The already increasingly competitive, fragmented TV landscape now disrupted by the cancellation of staple, live televised events means marketers must be bold in their approach to preparing for and navigating this year’s virtual planning season. A logical step for buyers and sellers alike is to reimagine the upfronts as a diversified, data-driven measurement and transaction cycle.

The portfolio strategy

Though the majority of TV discussions today center on the rise of CTV, linear will remain strong in 2020. With the presidential election in full swing, news stations regaining viewers and social distancing leading more people to their screens, traditional TV will be a source of collective news and entertainment for millions of viewers. Rather than trying to pin down a continually moving target, buyers can manage this by using data and cross-screen advertising to diversify portfolios through a mix of upfront linear TV, digital, addressable and CTV.

Now accelerated by the current economic situation, which has placed a premium on every ad dollar spent, outcomes are the name of the game. To balance portfolios, ensure 15- 20% of budgets are allocated to cross-screen audiences and backed by outcome-based guarantees. In anticipation of brands upping their budget for outcome-based guarantees, sellers should plan to make 15-20% of their inventory available for cross-screen audiences. While this percentage may seem high, it’s within reach for those considering data-driven TV tools and pushing for alternative measurement.

Luckily, the ability to have all forms of video become addressable and measurable against high-quality data will unlock the value of cross-screen deals and break silos between digital and traditional. Now that most streaming apps and platforms have been acquired by large programmers or distributors, the needs of both buyers and sellers are elevated. Brands can leverage their customer and campaign data to create proposals that flow through both this new converged traffic system and sellers via programmatic.

This multiplatform approach will be especially critical for brands and networks turning to new methods and platforms in hopes of reaching audiences lost to the canceled March Madness tournament and suspended NBA and MLB seasons. With live sports on indefinite hold, it would be foolish to ignore the possibility of a long-term impact on the vitality of sports on pay TV.

The pandemic has the potential to accelerate an existing trend away from live sports viewership. As traditional TV powerhouses continue on their quest to acquire a streaming service, it wouldn’t be unjustified to wonder whether professional sports may dig deeper roots in the connected TV world where audiences are addressable and measurable.

Looking beyond shelter in place

TV has needed to better embrace improved targeting and measurement to keep dollars and grow its share – long before coronavirus became our new reality. While sectors such as streaming are poised to take off, traditional TV may face challenges well after shelter-in-place orders dissolve.

To ensure TV can show up to the table with a real, compelling offer beyond the immediate public health situation, this balanced portfolio strategy is necessary for today’s marketers who need reach to sell products, raise brand awareness and tell a story. In this blended approach, marketers should combine the top-of-the-funnel, reach-based buys of linear with other parts of the marketing funnel that drive transactions and engagement, and look at these components holistically.

Take an automotive upfront deal, for example, which includes both sports and prime time. A marketer could use data about car models, such as electric or hybrid, to create an index-based plan for national, layer on addressable for key DMAs using MPVD or connected-TV footprints and retarget on digital. Together, this becomes one strategy that is negotiated in the upfronts and then enabled across the buy and sell sides. This portfolio view would show what percentage happens in which part of the upfronts and identify the combination that works best for their brand moving forward. And, agencies, platforms and the sell side can use common and agreed-upon data sets and measurement to unify it.

This year’s upfronts give buyers and sellers an opportunity for innovative problem-solving and optimized execution against business outcomes. COVID-19 disruptions have created an immense hurdle for the industry and society, but not one we can’t overcome. When we do finally make it back to the in-person glitz and glamor the upfronts are known for, a diversified portfolio powered by data, measurement and results will make the value chain one that’s more efficient and scalable for the future.

Follow Jay Prasad (@jayin3D), LiveRamp (@LiveRamp) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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