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Mobile Missing From the Upfront

  |  April 30, 2009   |  Comments

At upfront meetings, digital is being given only lip-service this year and mobile is completely overlooked. But that shouldn't be the case.

It's the most wonderful time of year for a television buyer: upfront meeting season. Upfront meetings are when the various broadcast and cable television networks present their programming for the upcoming year.

The broadcast networks and the big cable networks have elaborate, star-laden extravaganzas in New York City that are simulcast in other major U.S. cities. Smaller cable networks tour their agency partners, delivering their fanciest PowerPoint presentations over lunch or breakfast.

So what does this have to do with mobile marketing? If the upfront meetings are a guide, absolutely nothing.

Generally, digital is given only lip-service, while mobile is completely overlooked. But that shouldn't be the case.

This is the third year I've attended the upfront meetings, as my own agency has sought to infuse our television buying and planning with a digital mindset. I've already attended close to 20 upfront presentations representing 40 different cable TV networks.

If you've never attended one of these meetings, here's the script: After all the agency folks get their corner bakery sandwich box, a senior television salesperson makes a presentation. He starts with a joke about how every network claims to be number one in some demographic as a setup to his first slide containing his own claim of being number one. For those of us used to seeing presentations on mobile marketing, it's the equivalent of the "this is the year of mobile" joke.

Next is a musical montage of the network's hit shows, usually featuring a popular modern-rock song that will also be in 10 other networks' presentations. (I wonder if Chris Martin knows how popular "Viva La Vida" is with the ad crowd.) Next, the speaker will offer some numbers around specific programs and a series of new program clips.

At some point, the presenter will get to a slide about "360 opportunities." This is the "Internet girl" moment: he'll gesture to a woman in a black sweater and trendy glasses who is 10 years younger than her coworkers. If the woman is lucky, she'll be allowed to talk for a minute.

Most of the time, however, she just gets to wave while TV sales guy talks about pre-roll and the PowerPoint slide shows a picture of an attractive young person with his cell phone and laptop. Actually, this is a little harsh: sometimes Internet girl is a guy wearing a sports coat.

Last week, a cable news presenter spent most of his time talking about how news is consumed differently than in the past. However, the only thing he had on mobile marketing was a picture of President Obama with his BlackBerry.

Where were the numbers on their mobile Web site? Where were the descriptions of mobile sponsorships? After a blizzard of "We're number one" stats on their linear TV channel, there were no numbers to be found on anything else.

The Consumer Is Missing

Upfront presentations need to be more focused on the network audience's attitudes and behaviors. Anyone can pull the Nielsen numbers to see who's really number one in the target demographic, and it's hard to get much of sense of a show from the mashed-up snippets in a montage. What's valuable is understanding all the ways consumers interact with their favorite programs on their favorite networks.

Internet Girl Isn't a Genius

A person often gets the feeling that the online sales representative is the only person at the network office who knows anything about the digital platforms. Advertisers and agencies are increasingly looking to extend their TV beyond :30 spots and billboards.

The agency people who have typically only purchased traditional television are knowledgeable and active with digital media. They want (or should want) to hear about your online and mobile offerings, too. There's no secret code that only Internet girl can see with her trendy frames; everyone on a network's sales force should be able to talk about the offerings beyond the TV screen.

Bravo to Bravo

The best upfront presentation so far has been Bravo's. It's clearly focused on its audience of high-income, entertainment-savvy trendsetters it calls Affluencers.

Bravo showcased its TV programs while weaving the digital extensions into the presentation. It talked about the text messaging programs with its shows and actually did a live demonstration of an SMS (define) vote. It showed a mobile case study where an advertiser appeared on-air and sponsored a mobile SMS extension. It was fantastic.

A&E Network did a very good job as well. A&E showed its mobile applications and included statistics on mobile site visits and application downloads.

No one left the Bravo or A&E presentation grumbling that the TV montages weren't longer or that there was too much digital and not enough Nielsen numbers. So an integrated presentation can be done, and mobile advertising should be part of it. Those networks with smart, integrated presentations will probably reap the benefits when the buys start happening this summer.

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Davis Brewer

Davis Brewer is lead strategist of emerging channels for Spark Communications. As the lead strategist, Davis manages the robust expansion of all Spark client activity in the digital advertising space.

He acts as a client resource for the agency's digital futures practice, providing insights and analytics as well as risk management, for the latest emerging advertising opportunities in the digital media space. In this dual role, he continues to oversee his existing list of forward-thinking clients.

Davis began his career at an online advertising agency in San Francisco at the height of the dot-com boom. He quickly became a successful agent in the digital commerce arena after moving back to Chicago, armed with the unique perspective of a bubble-burst veteran.

A pioneer of behavioral targeting online, Davis was named a 2006 Rising Star in "DiversityBusiness" magazine. He received his degree in English from Dartmouth College.

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