With Upfront Events Canceled, Here’s What Buyers Want From Networks Instead

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  • With Upfront Events Canceled, Here’s What Buyers Want From Networks Instead

Key insights:

It took about one week for the growing threat of the novel coronavirus to obliterate this year’s upfront season, with nearly every media company canceling their planned presentations. May’s annual upfronts week was wiped out in its entirety last Thursday, as every major media company pulled the plug on their appearances over several hours, and most NewFronts presenters also going digital-only.

AMC Networks, which had originally scheduled its upfront event for Wednesday night, is instead creating a screening room to house its messaging and materials for buyers and planners. “They will have instantaneous access to whatever they need in the planning process and the buying process over the next several months,” said AMC Networks ad sales chief Kim Kelleher.

Most of AMCN’s rivals find themselves in a similar position, as they devise digital alternatives to their presentations while simultaneously navigating the ad sales fallout from last week’s sports cancellations. (“We’re in uncharted territory,” one TV ad sales exec told Adweek.)

This process gives media companies an opportunity to rethink their upfront presentations and how they can best engage buyers via this new format. Adweek asked several buyers what information they need—and what they don’t—from media companies to help them prepare for upfront negotiations. Here’s what they told us:

Matthew Denerstein, investment business lead at Mindshare, said he would want “a link I could go to that included programming clips which give me a flavor for their content, information about innovative ad products that are new to the market, and then how they’re setting their property up to succeed in an increasingly streaming and mobile-focused world.”

New ad formats over the past few years like pause ads, prime pods and prediction pods “show us how partners are evolving their offering towards viewers that are increasingly able to tune out the clutter,” Denerstein said. “Of course, the benefit needs to justify the price, but knowing what they’re offering helps us see where our clients’ ad dollars might work harder.”

Another essential component: “I also want to see how they can help us reach cord-cutters and streamers—the people that we can’t reach as easily through linear,” he added.

All of that information, in addition to talks with media partners involved with his specific accounts, “would be enough to inform our investment recommendations.”

As Shelby Saville, chief investment officer at Spark Foundry, noted, “We set our upfront strategies based on our individual client business needs, so when it comes to the [revised] upfront ‘presentations,’ the most important things that we want communicated are the partners’ strategies on how they plan to continue to grow viewership/users and the new ways they are developing ad products to increase effectiveness for our clients. Gaining further understanding of these key areas can be delivered virtually as easily as in-person.”

Saville suggested that media companies could use the shift to digital-only upfronts as an opportunity to “shake things up” when it comes to how they approach their presentations: “They could do the webcast of the ‘speech and strategy’ accompanied by live virtual ‘viewing parties’ of some of the new shows—versus just a trailer—followed by virtual ‘hangouts’ with talent talking about why they are excited about the project or connected to the platform.”

Additionally, “it is important for agencies and clients to understand the networks’ plans for the broadcast year,” said Carrie Drinkwater, executive director of integrated investments at MullenLowe’s Mediahub. That includes “their plans for programming, their plans for data, their plans for creative integrated solutions [and] their plans for total portfolio sales and opportunity.”

As for what media companies don’t need to include in their digital upfront presentations, “I definitely don’t need sizzle reels or a lot of data showing how they rank versus their competitors, how they build unique reach, etc.,” said Denerstein. “It’s our job to figure out how their audience and their reach fit into a total audience buying model.”

However, Drinkwater offered a different take, saying that sizzle reels can be “helpful if they contain some clips of new programs, as well as highlights of ratings success from the previous year.”

But there’s another upfront staple that Drinkwater said buyers could do without during these digital upfronts: “I do not think we need talent to speak to understand what the opportunities will be.”

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