Multiplatform TV: Starcom Exec Sees ‘Weaker’ Upfront But Other Bright Spots

New York—The traditional upfront market is shaping up a bit weaker than last year’s, but fresh content and increasingly viable new platforms offer ample reason for optimism.

That was the main thrust of a wide-ranging keynote appearance by Jackie Kulesza, senior VP and group director of video at Starcom USA at Wednesday’s Business of Multiplatform TV conference.

Early reports of softness in the upfront market, which is just entering its prime negotiating window, “seem to be true,” she said. That said, she reported being impressed with many of the offerings shown off by broadcasters during upfront presentations, pointing to ABC’s Black-ish, CBS’s Scorpion and NBC’s Mysteries of Laura as potential breakout hits.

Data and measurement are key priorities for Kulesza. “We really want to get our hands on the data,” she told moderator Melissa Grego, editor-in-chief of Broadcasting & Cable. Set-top box data in particular would allow Starcom to “do better precision targeting. We want to understand viewers’ state of mind and where they are on their journey to purchasing.”

While GroupM made a splash recently by declaring its plan to do C7 deals, Kulesza sounded a more cautious note. Compared with the rush of commitments to C3 in recent years, “what’s not happening this year around C7 is that vendors have not been able to fully articulate what the value proposition is for C7. Right now it just looks like adding four more days of viewing” with averaged-out (and arguably diluted) commercial viewing metrics, she said.

“We could go to minute-by-minute measurement and at least get better data about our own ads,” she added.

Grego asked about the ever-expanding menu of upfront events, Kulesza agreed the ritual has “gone supersized—it’d be great if we had some streamlining. I do think that presentations have gotten a bit tighter and have been more about the content. … Video is such a powerful medium and the Upfronts and NewFronts showcase that.”

The explosion of cable and NewFronts events means the unwritten rule from years ago that a buyer could ill afford to skip out on any spring action no longer applies. “With so many, now it’s OK to pick and choose,” she said.

Among emerging platforms, Kulesza lauded digital ad insertion, a rapidly maturing part of the VOD landscape, citing its upside for brands. “We are tremendously excited about DAI on VOD -- because we need new acronyms,” she quipped. “No, it’s a really incredible tool in terms of targeting.”

When Grego asked for details about how Starcom was harnessing the power of DAI, she said the agency is “trying to get that all figured out. There is a lot of test-and-learn in these spaces.”