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Upfronts Offer TV Networks a Three-Phase Opportunity

John Bishop, VP, Business Intelligence
John Bishop (Image credit: Advertiser Perceptions)

The 2022 TV upfronts have provided TV networks with a three-phase opportunity.

Networks are caught between conflicting speeds. On one hand, there‘s a rush to catch up with streaming and heightened desire for cross-screen activation and measurement. On the other hand, Nielsen’s hold as the standard-bearer for measurement is slowly giving way to alternatives, and the state of the market is uncertain and just beginning to sort out.

This change and tension gives networks a rare opportunity. With the medium at an inflection point and the future so obviously in flux, there’s a real appetite for stewardship. Networks can use this moment to reset the direction for advertiser relationships.

To do it, networks can focus on now, near-term and next.

Deliver what advertisers need now. While connected TV (CTV) is hot, linear TV remains advertisers’ and viewers’ foundation. A study we’re just completing with Hub Research shows that 95% of viewers still watch ad-supported TV, including the growing number who access all their content through a CTV app. For this reason, half of advertisers still see CTV in a supporting role. Despite rising doubts about Nielsen ratings, linear TV presents a single stable system whereas CTV measurement is the Wild West with individualized sales metrics and KPIs.

All of that means networks can help advertisers forge bedrock reach and attribution. Despite all the chatter about flexibility with terms, that’s the real issue here.

Design the near-term bridges. Advertisers need new ways to target and personalize ads across video channels. They also need help crossing the divides between alternative measurement currencies. Networks hold keys to both.

While CTV buying has cooled as many advertisers have trimmed budgets, that’s momentary. Before inflationary forces multiplied, 84% of advertisers were ready to buy big live events on CTV and dedicated 20% of their budgets to it. They’re increasingly interested in reaching identifiable viewers on exclusive content.

When the economy rebounds, we can expect CTV to explode the way all TV did last year. Indeed, in March, 85% of advertisers that had trimmed CTV budgets said they will reinstate them by the end of 2022.

While networks have responded to declining confidence in Nielsen with new data measurement frameworks, those frameworks are individual, proprietary and unverified. Advertisers need help with integrating them.

Drive the next phase of TV. The next generation of advanced advertising will likely focus on providing greater value to the viewers that advertisers target. As Comscore CEO Tania Yuki recently put it, “The next wave of innovation will be a new paradigm where ad buying works in concert and partnership with the consumer in pursuit of delivering better value, based on greater understanding and empathy.”

Networks have a clear role in this transition to making advertising work better for consumers. The current flux in measurement provides an opening to start talking about relevant innovation now. Alternative measurement currencies complicate advertisers’ evolution into holistic buying because consolidated planning still gives way to buying and measuring by platform. That makes the business return on investment projections (justifying Upfront commitments) and reporting that procurement demands difficult for advertisers to produce themselves.

This, in turn, changes the dynamic of buyer-seller relationships in the Upfront. Particularly with large agencies, the role of the rep changes from doing favors — “Got you covered, we’ll figure out where it goes” — to providing the intelligence to structure effective, measurable cross-platform commitments. Ensuring audience delivery from linear to CTV and complementary products like podcasts to make a quantifiable difference becomes a seller’s primary responsibility.

The critical inflection for TV in 2022 is relationship strategy. The networks that make it easy for advertisers to test new media and creative combinations and more accurately measure campaign effectiveness will gain a step during this season’s change. In the process, they will establish a new baseline for TV sales. ■

John Bishop is VP of business intelligence at Advertiser Perceptions.