Coronavirus is a catalyst for changes that have been years in the making. Nowhere is that truer than the advertising industry, which has seen the adoption of new habits which might previously have taken years happen in a matter of weeks.
When and how will the Upfronts occur this year?
One key area of change for the US market is the TV Upfront ecosystem. With production grinding to a halt and much of the country still in lockdown when Upfronts were meant to kick off, the question is, when and how will the Upfronts occur this year? Many key industry players have long pushed for the Upfronts to switch to a calendar year model, rather than the broadcast year of October to September. At the end of May, the ANA Media Advisory Board recommended a sweeping transformation of the system, causing a huge shake up in the media world. But how will it all pan out?
TV has transformed dramatically
Few would argue that TV’s October–to–September timeframe is outdated. It harks back to a time when TV was mainly appointment viewing, with a set year-round schedule of shows having first runs from October to May, with reruns over the summer. This in turn is rooted in historic business movements: car companies used to unveil new vehicle models in the fall, so TV launched its new season to tie in with that. But the TV sector has transformed dramatically in recent years: the proliferation of channels and programming means new content is available throughout the year. What’s more, appointment viewing has dissolved with the growth of time-shifted viewing, on-demand, OTT and CTV platforms; Nielsen found that the streaming share of TV is now at 23%, up from 14% compared to the same period a year before, and is expected to continue its growth trajectory.
Allowing for a better understanding of budgets
The suggested shift to a calendar-year model would allow advertisers until Q4 to get a good understanding of their budgets for the following year – especially important this year when all industries have experienced so much disruption. However, many of the large, traditional advertisers are set on signing upfront deals under the traditional broadcast-year model; even if the networks do choose to shift to the calendar year model, it would be easy to put aside the inventory that the big players normally go for, leaving newer advertisers with the ‘leftovers’ in the calendar-year marketplace or the more expensive scatter market.
The absence of live sports
Another compelling reason to push back the Upfronts is the current absence of live sports, and how the ‘withdrawal’ that many viewers and advertisers have felt will affect viewership when they are finally allowed to play again. The fact that games will be played ‘behind closed doors’ means that TV audiences are likely to be through the roof; it will be very difficult to estimate prices for ad spots until networks have a better idea of what those audiences will look like. In that light, shifting the Upfronts to Q4 seems like the right thing to do.
A chance to align the Upfronts and Newfronts
Shifting the Upfronts would present an opportunity to align them with the increasingly important Newfronts – a desirable outcome for both advertisers and media buyers. 72% of media buyers say that Newfronts are more important than ever, and nearly half want the Newfront presentations to merge with the Upfronts. A key factor in this is that 39% favor merging the two to help buyers better understand measurement and research across screens – which could in turn improve performance. There is a finite amount of reach available through linear TV and, in order to expand coverage or just reach the same number of consumers as before, advertisers need to diversify their media mix. 50% of marketers will increase their spend in CTV, OTT and Digital Video, while linear TV is likely to see a decrease. Advertisers will be looking to buy audiences agnostically across a network’s linear and digital assets: a compelling argument for merged Upfronts and Newfronts.
The time is now
All in all, it seems that transforming the Upfronts timeframe to a calendar model makes a lot of sense. It will be uncomfortable for a while, but doing it in a year when the status quo has been disrupted so fundamentally and the landscape has transformed so dramatically anyway seems a good time to do it. Time will inevitably tell.
Advertisers should re-evaluate their media mix and KPIs
Regardless of whether the Upfronts shift to a calendar-year format, or whether they merge with the Newfronts, this is a good time for advertisers to re-evaluate their media mix and KPIs, and to negotiate better deals with vendors.
- Buy flexibility: Flexibility has been an increasing priority for advertisers over the last few years, and the fact that so much new programming has been shelved as production is halted means that flexibility is more important than ever. Cognizant of the marketplace, vendors are likely to be more willing to provide more flexibility.
- Consider scatter opportunities: Marketplace uncertainty means that Upfront commitments are expected to be much lower than in previous years. This means that there will be more high-quality inventory left over for the scatter market – particularly as there is likely to be more certainty around programming and production as time progresses.
- Review your TV/digital mix: With 59% of media buyers expecting to increase their CTV/OTT budgets in the second half of 2020 compared to 2019, wise advertisers will consider where their audiences are, and the best touchpoints.
2020 has doubtless been a year of disruption and sleepless nights for advertisers and buyers in the US and worldwide, but with strategic thinking and agility, the transformation to the media landscape can be turned into an opportunity for the savvy advertiser. If you would like to discuss with one of our experts how you can identify and exploit the opportunities, please feel free to contact us on
Image: Vasyl Shulga / Shutterstock
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