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The 2020 Upfronts Will Require A Different Kind Of Playbook

July 30, 2020

Authored by Fraser Woollard, SVP, Business Development, Mediaocean and published in AdExchanger on Monday, June 15th, 2020

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

Today’s column is written by Fraser Woollard, senior vice president of business development at Mediaocean.

Not long ago, the upfronts symbolized stability in the media world, with their guaranteed viewership against a predictable lineup of shows, all offered months in advance.

This year, not so much. TV buyers and sellers must now navigate an economic crisis, a production crisis, a pause on live sports, a daypart-melding spike in TV viewership and the elimination of in-person meetings – all against an already shifting tide of viewing habits and video platforms. We appear to be facing the most unpredictable upfronts season yet.

In all the upheaval, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the best moves to help TV buyers and sellers navigate a very different upfronts. And while the answers are too complex – encompassing media, data and operations alike – for just one article, I do believe there are several steps media buyers and sellers must take to help them weather the storm.

Prioritize predictive pricing

As change takes hold, good predictive analytics will be crucial for ensuring the right inventory at the right price amid shifting grounds, including more effective yield management for sellers and ad optimization for buyers.

Obviously, no system or method holds the crystal ball to the future – especially not in a “black swan” environment like the one we’re in now. But having the math to help buyers and sellers test hypotheses, make more educated guesses about the range of outcomes and drive more effective automation will be crucial for thriving in the uncertainty to come. Now is the time to invest in these systems, or at least to start down the path of due diligence.

Transact agnostically on audiences – not screens

As the pandemic changes viewing patterns, buyers need to be ready to buy based on the outlet their audiences watch – not just on the content they watch.

For instance, CNN pushes the same content on CNN TV and its CNN Go app, but word in the industry is that the average CNN TV viewer is about 67 years old, while the average CNN Go App viewer is around 38. That means that it makes no sense to buy the content but ignore the outlet.

The takeaway: It’s critical to leverage omnichannel data and systems to help marketers connect with the right people, wherever they are.

Rethink the formats

Buyers and sellers both must rethink what an upfront can and should look like. That could include eschewing face-to-face meetings in favor of virtual confabs. It could also mean radically rethinking timing, such as replacing yearly upfronts with rolling guarantees as production companies get back up to speed, or re-timing upfronts to sync with the rest of the fiscal calendar.

On an infrastructure front, these format changes require the systems and processes to take an agile approach to media transactions – from thoughtful approaches to videoconferencing to accounting systems that can support rolling budgets.

Prepare for the short term

This year in particular, long-term success may come from short-term planning. Indeed, it seems that in 2020 many buyers are leaning even further into near-term scatter markets – and forecasters predict that the upfronts will sell as little as 40-60% of total inventory. Whether that’s ultimately good or bad for buyers and networks, the reality is that long-term guarantees will likely be soft this year, and that may be the trend of years to come. Media professionals need to adjust their data and operations so they can pivot quickly and capture emerging opportunities.

How will the upfronts develop over the rest of 2020? No one knows. But by establishing the infrastructure to follow new opportunities and roll with the punches, both agencies and networks can set themselves up for success amid all the change – however the tide turns.

This upfronts season, fast and flexible is the only choice.