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Upfront Signs Point To Programmatic Gains

Related: Getting With the Programmatic Program

Whether the buyers or sellers gain the upper hand in the current upfront market, executives on programmatic platforms expect to see their businesses grow.

“We look forward to seeing how the upfronts perform. As programmatic, we should benefit in either a great success or a challenging upfront market because we’re going to help the media partners monetize their audiences,” says Brendan Condon, president of AdMore.

If the networks hold back commercial time in the upfront because they can’t get the prices they are seeking, that would mean more inventory to sell via programmatic channels. And if a lot of TV inventory is sold, programmatic would become a more effective way of managing and selling the leftovers.

“Programmatic brings these undervalued audiences, these smaller pockets of valuable viewers, to the forefront,” Condon says. “So from a network perspective, if they’ve had great success selling their A-list programs, they can also have success in better uncovering what other valuable audiences they have for advertisers.”

Programmatic wasn’t a big topic as the broadcast networks held their upfront presentations in New York last month. But that didn’t necessarily mean that it was a less-important part of the media buying environment.

“There was less talk about programmatic because it’s becoming more commonplace. It wasn’t the novelty that it was two year ago,” says Condon.

But while programmatic might not have been a big part of the extravagant presentations, the data that supports programmatic was a bigger emphasis as buyers and sellers planned for the upfront, according to Chris Raleigh, chief commercial officer at placemedia.

Raleigh notes that most people define programmatic as using data to define and reach targets and employing automation to find appropriate inventory and make transactions.

“I think you’ll see a lot more data-driven deals,” Raleigh says. “What’s interesting is there’s not much automation behind that. So even though there’s big talk and a lot of headlines, you’re not seeing a great deal of automation that can help manage these campaigns during the course of the year.”

Beyond the upfront, Raleigh says he’s hearing that many clients plan to hold money back from the upfront to do more programmatic buying over the course of the year.

“They’re saying, ‘I can get better targeting, more flexibility and better reporting,’” he says. “Large marketers are spending the bulk of their money in linear TV. There is more desire on the clients’ part to get deeper and deeper into programmatic, but they can’t. They’ve got to balance all the advantages they have buying in the upfront and augment that with more supplemental programmatic buys over the course of the year once you hit scatter.”

Raleigh adds that many clients only have enough volume to effectively make upfront buys on 10 to 15 networks. Programmatic buys allow a client to cast a wider net yet be more selective about the inventory the marketer buys on each channel to more precisely reach a specific target audience.

Upfront buys will reach traditional demo targets, such as women 18-49, but programmatic will hit more strategic targets, such as left-handed women who drive SUVs, Raleigh notes.

Keeping track of how well a campaign is reaching those strategic targets is key. “Everyone’s trying to figure out how you automate that part,” says Raleigh.

Todd Gordon, general manager for programmatic TV at TubeMogul, says his company has been meeting with clients to help them get the most out of their upfront buys.

“For mass marketers, their communications plans still start with TV as a foundation, and most of that TV [buying] is done in traditional ways,” Gordon says. “We’re providing software and data to help them understand who they’ve reached well, and some alternative approaches to reach those customers that might not be reached traditionally.”

Until last year Gordon was a top buyer at Magna Global, one of the biggest media agencies. As clients aim to connect their brands with more specific targets, it becomes more difficult to track with relatively primitive tools, he says.

“To do that with a spreadsheet is just impossible," Gordon says. “It’s too complicated. There are too many choices. When you add in the complexity of a data-driven strategy target and the additional complexity of the opportunities across screens, it’s just, ‘Hey, I need some software to help me navigate that.’”

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.