Heavy.com Makes a Bid for ‘Upfront’ Money

Heavy.com has taken a step to preempt the approaching orgy of media brokers known as the television upfront, creating what it’s calling a “digital upfront” to tempt agencies to redirect some of their branding dollars to its integrated ad offerings.

The Web site, which boasts an audience of 10 million or so mostly young men, will present 30 hours of its upcoming programming to agencies in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit in the hopes media planning execs will commit now to advertise with it during the remaining nine months of the year.

Heavy.com certainly isn’t the first company to try to create its own digital upfront. Other online media companies, particularly in the automotive vertical, have played with the model for at least two years. The resemblance of such experiments to the national TV upfront is thin at best. Online versions lack the big New York party, the middle of the night negotiating sessions, or the straight-up bluffing of the original version. Rather, Web publishers simply pitch their pending inventory to agencies hoping to secure advance sales. In Heavy.com’s case, that means visiting agencies at their offices with a deck of 13 upcoming “Must Stream TV” shows, including a mobile phone-enabled dating show called “The Massive Mating Game” and several new installments in the “Machinima” nano-genre, consisting of video game animation paired with user-generated voice over.

“It doesn’t resemble the classic television upfront,” Heavy.com co-CEO David Carson admitted to ClickZ News. “It’s not the typical dog-and-pony show where you come in and everybody has drinks. We’re talking to advertisers about what we’re doing and how they can get involved in the network through the rest of the year.”

Rather than a serious bid to replicate TV’s spring buying season, Heavy.com’s upfront is named and timed primarily to capitalize on media planners’ awareness of impending negotiations with national and cable TV networks. Carson said, “You want to time these things in and around the upfront, to earmark some of that [money] before it gets earmarked for television.”

Carson insists the idea has merit from an inventory standpoint as well, saying the company expects an inventory shortage for its tightly integrated ad placements. These have included a brand deal with Burger King in which the company allowed Heavy.com to hand out masks of its “The King” spokesperson and let its audience create their own videos with them. In another instance, Sony sponsored “World of Warcraft” Machinima content which Carson called “three minute commercials for the game.”

The number of such advertiser tie-ins any Web publisher can offer in a year is typically small, and such programming requires more development lead time than a standard ad buy. Whenever media placement demand outstrips supply, it pays to get buyers bidding early.

“Media buyers are just now starting to get really interested in [deeper integration] — just in the last year,” Carson said. “Prior to that integration was really uncommon. They were standard buys based off spreadsheets. It stands to reason that by the time you get to 2007, the potential gets a little frothier.”

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