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For Upfront, Custom Content Is Now a Big Deal

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In this year's upfront market, don't expect advertisers to limit their buying to 30-second commercials.

"A large portion of our clients are looking beyond what their CPM is, and spots and dots, to see how they can leverage the contextual relevance of the networks and show where they're going to spend money," said Brent Poer, president of LiquidThread North America, the content creation arm of media buyer Starcom MediaVest Group.

Poer said clients are looking for custom created content and new forms of storytelling to connect brands to consumers' lives using paid media, owned media and earned media with programs that add digital and social to traditional television.

"I don't think it was really until this year that people saw the value of that, and how you should not only engage with that audience but market in real time," Poer said.

The ability of networks to help execute multifaceted marketing campaigns for clients can affect their share of those clients' marketing dollars. That's one reason programmers are building up their marketing groups.

Poer, a former Lifetime executive, said he used to see cable networks as the first line of innovation, but he now said the broadcasters are catching up. "I think that our broadcasting partners have shown they're willing to innovate and work in very different ways than they ever have before," he said.

Branded content ideas can't be put together during upfront negotiations about prices. Instead, they're put together in discussions that take place in the month leading up to the upfront.

Poer refers to this as place-holding. "I would not say that it is fully baked. That happens afterwards," he said. "There are many details that have to be worked out. But there are enough rules of the road going into it that you have clear guidelines and guardrails set up on a deal so that everyone's very clear about what the expectations are."

A few years back, Poer worked with The CW to create a deal for Microsoft's Bing search engine that promoted CW shows online and attached Bing to The CW's onscreen bug. "It is a very complex world right now," Poer said. "It used to be we knew exactly what we were asking for: 'I want to integrate in XYZ show.' Now you're going to be saying, ‘What if we did this and this and this?' And you have people who say ‘I don't know, I'll get back to you,'" he said.

Different networks have different ways to pay for these deals. Some seek fees. Others look for an increase in the scale of the overall media buy, Poer said. And there are different ways of determining the effectiveness of these programs.

SMG recently started what it calls convergence modeling, which measures changes across multiple mediums. In some cases, Poer said he has seen content marketing programs amplify the impact of a traditional marketing campaign by five times. "You start to understand that TV does this, digital does this, and the combination equals this," he said.