Countdown to the Upfront

Last week, we got a sneak peek into marketers’ attitude toward the annual buying binge we call the television upfront. At the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) meeting, it was revealed fully 56.6 percent of marketers are dissatisfied with the upfront ad-buying process. New ANA research reports 47 percent of marketers believe current network pricing (determined by the upfront) is unfair.

Meanwhile, the entire TV family is coming out of the woodwork to stake their claims to the $10 billion pot up for grabs. The Syndicated Network Television Association (SNTA) held a meeting last week that brought together syndicators, advertisers, and agencies to discuss 2005 plans. The Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau (CAB) is trotting around an impressive road show presentation that speaks to “one TV world” as opposed to any distinction between broadcast and cable.

I don’t feel too sorry for the cable folks. They’ll likely see over $5 billion this year during the upfront season. What amuses me is when I hear the cable industry talking about its place in the market and making a case for why it should be taken seriously. “This is the year of cable,” the industry exclaims. “We aren’t the red-headed stepchild any longer.” And, of course, “Broadcast TV, the gig is up.”

Sound familiar?

When you hear the case cable puts together to compare itself to broadcast TV, data points include penetration (ratings), time spent (share), quality of programming, targetability, and efficiency (CPM).

I think it may be time for our industry to put together a similar road show (we’re no strangers to the concept). We need a well-timed preemptive strike. We need a case that’s objective and identifies our strengths and weaknesses as a communications vehicle. It should present a logical comparison to other media options. Armed with this information, agencies and marketers could use interactive as a go-to medium if, for some reason, the upfront doesn’t go as well as expected (hee hee!).

Just to get the ball rolling, let’s review some data we already know:

  • Penetration (ratings): We’re in great shape. Somewhere between 65 and 85 percent penetration (granted, that’s a reach ceiling), depending on the demo you’re looking at. Not to be too competitive, but we’ve also seen data indicating Internet penetration exceeds that of cable TV. Who’s the stepchild now? Grade: A-

  • Time spent (share): I can’t stand arguments that make a linear correlation between time spent and recommended ad spending. They’re not synonymous. The metric of time spent versus other media is a good indication of how important the Internet is in consumers’ lives. Once again, there’s a nice range here, depending on the target. Media in Mind (our proprietary research source) shows a range of an 8 to 20 percent share of all media consumed. That’s healthy. Grade: B+
  • Quality of programming: In a nonlinear world, high-quality content can quite easily be adjacent to substandard content. Though the Web does have a tremendous amount of quality programming, anyone can be a producer. Power to the people does have drawbacks. It tends to reduce the medium’s overall quality. Grade: B-
  • Targetability: Interactive marketing wins this category hands down. Between highly specialized editorial adjacencies, contextual targeting, and newly invigorated behavioral targeting, the Web can be used to target audiences unlike any other medium. There’s always a tradeoff between reach and relevance (targetability), but that’s true of all media. Grade: A
  • Efficiency (CPM): It’s harder to make an apples-to-apples comparison here. If we were to look at total persons or household (HH) CPMs across media, the Internet appears pretty efficient. Since the average CPM across the Web is under $10, the only medium that routinely beats it is out-of-home.

    If we looked at demo CPMs across media, the Internet starts having a problem, but it’s more a function of poor research than the medium’s nature. Though we can target messages on pages or sections of Web properties we know have a high composition of our target audience, syndicated research doesn’t report that level of granularity. Therefore, when we use overall site composition as a proxy to arrive at demo CPMs, we’re not getting a true representation of the medium’s efficiency. Grade: B+

Overall Grade: B+

Each and every one of us should to put together a comprehensive presentation in the next month or so that can be shown to our organization leaders who participate in the upfront. Give them a sense of where we are today and what we can bring to the table (e.g., streaming 30-second video delivery) if they need options or leverage in upfront negotiations. Industry organizations such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the Online Publishers Association (OPA) should rally the troops to create a strong road show in upcoming weeks.

It’s not often $10 billion changes hands in a few weeks. Let’s make sure we have our ducks in a row to fully capitalize on the momentum.

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