The Upfront, the NewFront – What’s the NextFront?

The “Digital Content NewFronts” have been making headlines lately. The crux of the discussion to date has centered on the question of whether upfront buying, a staple in the world of television, translates into the new landscape of digital video. Traditionally, an advertiser buys “upfront” to secure premium content that will attract the largest, and by extension, most desirable audience. Locking in early guarantees sufficient impression levels, and, presumably, offers certain pricing incentives. By these criteria, the NewFronts concept makes perfect sense.

Despite the recent advances by media brands to develop original video content, there is still a limited supply of premium video inventory available to large brand advertisers. On the other side of the argument, however, are those who suggest that the proliferation of real-time bidding (RTB) and similar audience-buying technology has rendered upfront buying less important. It’s true that for some advertisers, programmatic buying proves very efficient in terms of targeting, optimizing, and meeting specific return on investment (ROI) objectives. This type of buying, however, takes away a degree of certainty, as both supply and pricing are subject to market volatility and fluctuating demand. As such, I believe that both “upfront” style content buying and audience-driven “scatter” buying will continue to have roles as the video marketplace evolves. I believe this hybrid option – the “NextFront,” if you will – will emerge, encompassing the best of both.

In this scenario, advertisers can still choose the security of “going long” in terms of buying commitments, however, the focus will be not only on buying content, but also on buying audiences across a full-range of brand-compatible sites. Clearly we’re seeing a growing number of advertisers embracing audience buying. The reasons for this are multi-layered. Better, more abundant data across publishers now allows for narrower addressability, at scale, and less dependence on content-specific buying. This brings with it the well-documented benefits of waste reduction and improved ROI across a wide array of brand metrics.

Moreover, as the proliferation of devices and fragmentation of audiences continues, the ability to gain sufficient reach against a given consumer segment through content-based, platform-specific buys is becoming more difficult. Device-agnostic audience buying, however, follows the consumer throughout her media path and allows advertisers to leverage emerging technologies, while still achieving brand goals. You might be thinking, “But why would advertisers need upfront buying if they’re going after audiences? Isn’t that what RTB is all about?” Well, yes, RTB buying certainly serves many audience-buying objectives. But the truth is, despite advances in technology, the basics of brand advertising haven’t changed. And brand building focuses on a planned strategy: forecasting, television rating point (TRP) mandates, media mix modeling, seasonal builds. It’s too choreographed of a dance for many advertisers to risk the uncertainties associated with a pure RTB strategy. And in the end, inventory across brand-enhancing, brand-safe sites, whether by buying based on content or audiences, is still constrained in the video landscape.

The NextFront must allow for all of these buying scenarios, depending on the needs of the advertiser. At its best, it will involve and leverage the entire video ecosystem, bringing an expanded set of players to the upfront negotiations. New content creators, technology providers, and audience aggregators from ad networks to platforms to cable multiple system operators (MSOs) – working across all devices – would eventually take their seat at the NextFront table. And sitting at this table will likely not be a once-a-year event. As consumers have more control over when and why they watch video, traditional buying seasons may become less defined.

Just as video advertising offers the best of both traditional television and digital media, the future of holistic video buying is likely to be a true amalgamation of dynamic planning and buying strategies. And we’re not done yet. As devices, technologies, measurement tools, and consumer behaviors continue to evolve, the NextFront will remain a relative term.

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